The 2015 Top Fantasy Prospects

March 14, 2015

 

 

Itís prospecting time again with yet another list of baseballís top young players. Unlike the ones produced by Baseball America, John Sickels and other esteemed evaluators, which are usually focused on a playerís ability to become a productive major leaguer, this one is focused on those who will have the most fantasy value. Thatís not to say that it ignores defense because it doesnít. A player can only accumulate fantasy stats if heís being used in games and good defense will often keep a hitter getting at bats when there may be better bats on the bench. Additionally, a pitcher with a great fastball might find use in the bullpen as a reliever whereas one with lesser stuff but better minor league numbers might find himself out of a job. This list is primarily about raw ability colored slightly by the aptitude to one day realize it. The degree of uncertainty with players in the lower levels of the minors was a factor in the rankings but I tried not to let it dissuade me too much. It should be noted that any legitimate prospect ranking is as much about evaluating mental tools and the preparedness of a player to handle the challenges presented by life in the major leagues as it is a gauge of physical tools. Thus there will be a great many discrepancies between lists as well as from year to year.

 

Without further adieu, I give you my top fantasy prospects for 2015 and beyond:

 

1) Byron Buxton

Last yearís #1 is still at the top despite struggling through an injury-plagued season. Thereís nothing to indicate that his injuries lessened his tools and all of them grade above average. Power is probably his weakest tool but even that projects to a hitter with 15-20 home run power, perhaps more. His speed and defense both grade out as high as the scouting scale allows so weíre talking about a potential Eric Davis-type impact player. Granted, the frequency of his injuries is concerning long-term but when heís on the field heís a top 10 talent. I comped him last year with Cesar Cedeno, whose average season during his peak was 20 homers and 56 steals with a slashline of .295/.362/.481 despite playing his home games in the uber-pitcher-friendly Astrodome. Target Field is a little more hitter friendly but the stats sound about right once he reaches maturity.

 

2) Lucas Giolito

I know pitchers usually get a bad rap as prospects because their injuries are so high profile but I am surprised more evaluators donít have Giolito higher. In his first season coming back from Tommy John surgery he was throwing in the high 90s topping 100 a few times with very good control. The velo wasnít surprising but the control coming back so quickly was. Granted, it was in the Sally League but heís still only 19 years old. He was once considered one of the best high-school right-handers ever and had it not been for the elbow injury he would have likely been the first to be taken first overall in the amateur draft. That talent didnít go away. Scouts grade his fastball at the top of the scale, his curve at the top or very near the top, his change as above average as well as his control, and his make-up off the charts. Heís essentially a bigger, stronger version of Felix Hernandez.

 

3) Kris Bryant

Bryant answered many of the questions I had about his ability to make contact last year but I do think itís still a concern. He struck out 162 times in under 500 at bats last split between Double-A and Triple-A. He was still young for the level (22) but not especially young that one could dismiss it completely. What plays and will be his calling card is his top of the scale power. The last Cubs farm product that had this much power wasÖ well, no one. Sammy Sosa was a product of the Rangerís system and came to the Cubs as a major leaguer. Andre Dawson came as a free-agent. Ron Santo didnít have this kind of power. Ernie Banks was a product of the Negro Leagues. Hack Wilson came from the Giants. So I guess that means he could become one of the best Cubs players ever, and certainly one of the most homer-prone.

 

4) Yoan Moncada

This name might be surprising this high but his ability is likened to that of Robinson Cano with speed. So, a 19-year old switch-hitting middle-infielder with the size and build to produce 25-homer power and speed to steal 30-40 bases? Basically Mike Trout playing in the infield. The only reason I donít have him ranked higher is because he hasnít played in the minors yet so I donít know how heíll handle the cultural adjustment. Nor do we really know how disciplined he is at the plate. His stats in the Cuban League indicate he has a pretty good eye, but so did Alex Guerrero at the same age and under the same circumstances and he hasnít quite panned out. The tools are there for greatness and heís still young enough to learn how to apply them. The unanswered question is make-up and that could be significant. Still, the payoff could be huge.

 

5) Joey Gallo

I donít think there is any question that Gallo has more power than Bryant, which is hard to believe because Bryant is basically King Kong. But anyone who watched Gallo hit in the Futureís Game will not debate that point at all. The question, like Bryant but even moreso, is how much contact he will make as he ascends toward the majors. One of the reasons I had him in my top 50 last year where no one else did was because of the immense improvement in plate discipline he showed over the final two months of that season. That fact would go unnoticed to someone who was only looking at his season-ending stats. Giancarlo Stanton was wrongly under-appreciated in the low minors for the very same reason. Gallo surprised many observers with the early adjustments he made that resulted in a torrid start in the Carolina League. Even though we didnít see the same kind of dramatic improvements after he made the jump to Double A that we saw in 2013, there were still discernable improvements in his decision-making at the plate. Since he is two years younger than Bryant, Iím a little more optimistic that his path will more resemble Stantonís than some of the current comps that are being tossed around.

 

6) Carlos Correa

I will admit that Correa showed better than I thought he would last year. Even injury-shortened it was still an impressive year. I havenít changed my view on his physical tools (heís definitely no young ARod) but I was very impressed with his ability to comprehend the game. His stolen base rate went way up but I would far more attribute that to his ability to read pitchers and understand optimal times to run rather than any raw physical asset. His understanding of the strikezone also improved significantly. His home run total was not very impressive but the power was still evident with a significant increase in triples. It will be very interesting to see how he continues to develop this season at Double-A. I still see him at third base long term but I donít have as many questions about his ability to become a star.

 

7) Addison Russell

Unlike everyone higher than him on this list, Russell does not have any tools that grade out as exceptional. What makes him special is that there is no question what position he will play in the majors and that he has no real weaknesses in his game. The only thing holding him back is experience. Last year began with a bumpy start and then he got traded to a team that has more shortstop prospects than positions on the field. But I have great confidence that when he gets his chance he will be the Cubs starting shortstop for the foreseeable future. Iíve likened him to a poor-manís Barry Larkin but I donít think that is true any more. Heís not a poor manís anyone. From age 24-35 Larkin averaged 13 homers and 25 steals a season with a slash-line of .305/.383/.467. That doesnít seem beyond Russellís capability although I think Russell might have a little more power and a little less speed. Even though Starlin Castro is signed through 2019, I think the Russell era will begin in 2016 with Castro either moving to second or to another team.

 

8) Corey Seager

The more talented Seager brother (which is saying something since Kyle is a terrific third baseman) will probably begin his major league career in earnest in 2016. The Dodgers acquired the final year of Jimmy Rollins contract presumably so they did not have to rush Seager into the spotlight at short but all signs point to his being ready to go now. Seager is not blessed with great speed but everything else in his toolbox is high-quality. Still only 20 years old, there are still some minor refinements he will be able to work on in Triple-A this season with a likely late season call-up. He looked very comfortable in his first few spring at bats against major league competition, which is usually a good sign that he belongs there. If Rollins gets injured there is no reason why Seager canít fill in immediately.

 

9) Julio Urias

Could Urias become the next Cliff Lee? Itís certainly possible. I normally donít trust pitchers who donít have a plus fastball, but his curve, cambio (thatís Spanish for change-up) and control are so good already at age 18 that I am naturally drawn to believing that he could be the next great control pitcher. Thatís not to say his fastball isnít good. Itís still an above average offering and as young as he is thereís a decent chance heíll add some more velocity.He still has the significant hurdle of facing Double-A hitters, but if he handles them the same way heís handled the last two levels the Dodgers will be hard pressed to keep him in the minors past his 19th birthday. Heís a little undersized (Lee stands 6í4Ē, while Urias is 5í11Ē) so he doesnít have the advantage of downward plane which will probably limit his upside but this is still one tremendous pitching talent. The Fernando Valenzuela comps might not be too far off.

 

10) Daniel Norris

This offseason Norris became known as much for his tour of the States living out of his VW minibus as he was for his ability to pitch. But to refresh your memory on how good a pitcher he became in 2014, he scorched through three levels striking out a ridiculous 163 batters in a little more than 124 innings before making his major league debut striking out David Ortiz with the game in the balance during a relief appearance. The rest of his major league experience was not as impressive but that might have been because he was pitching with bone chips in his elbow. Surgically cleaned up this winter and healthy for spring, he is probably the favorite to break camp as the Blue Jays fifth starter this year. He offers four average or better offerings including a fastball with life that reaches 95 mph. That stuff plays up even better though because of his tremendous maturity and instincts.

 

11) Carlos Rodon

Rodon was at the top of just about everyoneís draft list last year Ė with the obvious exceptions of the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins Ė and with good reason. Lefties with live fastballs and wipeout sliders are pretty rare. More than a few evaluators have said that once Rodon makes the majors that his slider will be one of the top four of five sliders in the bigs. His change-up is a work in progress but should be average to a tick above. The biggest issue he needs to address is command of his fastball, which heís had trouble locating on the edges resulting in a high rate of walks. Once he gets settled, along with Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Jeff Samardzija, the White Sox will have the best starting staff in the AL Central and one of the best in baseball.

 

12) Tyler Glasnow

Baseball America rates four pitchers of their top 100 prospects as having ď80Ē fastballs (the best possible score in scouting parlance): Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Tyler Kolek and this guy. At 6í7Ē and throwing nearly 100 mph routinely, heís a fairly intimidating presence on the mound. The fact that heís been a little wild throughout his minor league career makes him even moreso. His command improved slightly in 2014 but his performance in the Arizona Fall league revealed he still has some work to do before facing major league hitters on a regular basis. As with any exceptionally tall fireballer, there are a lot of levers to get control of in order to maintain consistency so it may take an extra year before he realizes his full potential. I expect heíll get his first shot at the Pirateís rotation some time in 2016.

 

13) Miguel Sano

Sano wouldnít be on this list were it not for an injury that cost him his entire 2014 season. He possesses upper end power but like the Cubsí Javier Baez appears to have some holes in his swing that will make it difficult for him to fully implement it. Still, a 20-year old hitting 35 homers split between the extremely hitter friendly Florida State League and Double A New Britain? Thatís a hitter to have a lot of patience with as he figures it out, just as the Cubs will with Baez. Unfortunately for fantasy teams, that patience may require enduring some brutal summers where he hits .200. The key for both players is how quickly they really understand their limitations. Pitchers in the majors donít make nearly as many mistakes as they do in the minors. The sooner Sano realizes that heíll have to take his lumps waiting for the mistakes rather than getting himself out on pitches he canít handle, the sooner heíll become a very useful fantasy asset.

 

14) Jon Gray

My brain says ďnoĒ but my gut says ďyesĒ to putting Gray here. I have no doubt heís a top 20 talent but last yearís struggles left me with some trepidation. I say ďstrugglesĒ because I expected him to be in the majors before the end of his first full professional season but in retrospect that was unrealistic. Fatigue was a significant factor as to why his numbers and mechanics deteriorated late but thatís not uncommon for pitchers in their first full season of professional ball. Last spring his velocity was down around 92-93 and he peaked at around 96 during the season. This spring heís already been clocked at 97, which was what he was pitching at regularly when he was drafted. The Rockies are not overly loaded in the rotation so if he continues to impress this spring he could find himself in their rotation as soon as his arbitration clock allows. His fastball has been clocked as high as 102 and he has good command of a change-up and slider that both grade above average.

 

15) Alex Jackson

Jackson is the second-youngest player on this list and farthest away from the majors but he has tremendous upside. Scouts rave about his power and suggest that heís capable of even more. What makes him even more intriguing is that he has exceptional bat control, meaning he will probably hit for average as well. His swing is clean and quick and he has a good eye for which pitches he can handle. Heís been moved away from catcher to the outfield to accelerate his journey to the majors. That transition is still a work in progress but he has the arm to handle right field once heís ready.

 

16) Aaron Nola

Nolaís fastball is a tick above average but his control of both his stuff and his emotions on the mound are probably the best in the minors. For three years he pitched in the toughest conference in the NCAA and on the college gameís biggest stage. Over his last two seasons he was 23-2 with an ERA of 1.52, striking out more than a batter per inning and walking an average of 1.6 batters per game. And in LSUís biggest games he was always money: in conference and post-season games last year, he finished 7 innings or more in 10 of his 12 starts and held the opposition to 2 runs or less nine times. He might very well be pitching in Philadelphia by the All-Star break this year. My one concern is the number of home run balls heís given up in professional ball, especially given his home park once he gets to the majors. That was partly due to some inconsistency in his arm slot so itís definitely fixable. Heíll be good right away but how quickly and thoroughly he addresses that issue will determine whether heís merely good or All-Star good.

 

17) Dylan Bundy

Bundy has been the Orioles top prospect for the last three years, largely due to injuries that have kept him from developing as quickly as everyone thought he would. In 2013 he made a huge splash in his professional debut, striking out 40 in 30 innings at Low-A Delmarva while only allowing 5 hits and 2 walks. Few pitchers at any level or any circumstance attain that kind of dominance. Unfortunately, we havenít seen anything close to that from Bundy since. Control has been the biggest issue but that in large part can be attributed to the arm injury he suffered and the recovery period after surgery. Late last season he began to flash the same form as displayed in Delmarva, leaving hope that he is fully recovered this spring. When healthy, his fastball is consistently in the high 90s which he mixes with a good curve and change.

 

18) Jorge Soler

Many comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero have been drawn for Soler and they arenít altogether unfair. He does swing and make contact with a lot of pitches and he does have good power and a strong throwing arm. However, Vlad had longer arms and was thus able to make contact with many more pitches that seemed otherwise unhittable. He also had more power, more speed, a better eye at the plate and his throwing arm was considered one of the best in the history of the game. But yeah, I can see where they were coming from. Seriously, Soler is a fine hitter but heís not Vlad Guerrero mk.2. A better comp might be a right-handed Josh Reddick. Still very good and useful for fantasy purposes, but not someone you blow the budget on. Ever.

 

19) J.P. Crawford

Crawford was already the heir apparent to Jimmy Rollins in Philadelphia to replace him as soon as 2016 but that timetable might have been accelerated with Rollinsí trade to the West Coast. At best it wonít be by much - perhaps a September call-up - but in all likelihood Crawford will get his chance next spring. Scouts are split as to whether his power is plus or merely average but all are in agreement that he will be a good hitter for average. He has an extraordinary eye for balls and strikes, as evidenced by one stretch last year where he only struck out twice in 62 at bats. His defense borders on spectacular so the Phillies may give him the opportunity to learn at the major league level even if his bat isnít completely ready. He might eventually become an average runner but his fantasy value is all in his bat.

 

20) Joc Pederson

I really do like Joc Pederson and it might seem crazy to place a hitter who just posted the first 30/30 season in the PCL since 1934 this low on a prospect list. But part of his success there has to do with the ballpark and the altitude in Albequerque, as well as his managerís willingness to let him run into outs. Sure, he stole 30 bases but he also got caught 13 times. He also struck out in over a third of his at bats. And that 30-home run power came at the expense of doubles power, which given the divisional parks heíll be playing in will revert back to doubles power. Heís much closer to 20-homer power than 30-homer power. Heís got a good eye at the plate for balls and strikes so heíll get his walks but this talent set is that of a good-to-very-good player, not a great one. Itíll be interesting to see if the contact issues he experienced in his cup of coffee last year were due to small sample or a larger problem but he reminds me a lot of Jeremy Hermida.

 

21) Archie Bradley

Bradley would appear to be a carbon copy of Tyler Glasnow (that should probably be reversed as Bradley is a year older) but with slightly shorter levers (he stands only 6í4Ē). Both possess premium fastballs, above average curveballs and significant command issues. However, Bradleyís fastball and curve both grade a tick lower than Glasnowís and Bradleyís struggles with command have only increased as heís progressed to the higher levels despite being a year older. Thereís still a good chance that Bradley will develop into a very good starting pitcher but, unlike Glasnow, itís looking more likely that heíll be outside of the elite.

 

22) Yasmany Tomas

With Jose Abreuís spectacular debut last season, it seems like the whole world thinks that Cuba is a massive factory of 30 homer, .300 hitters. Abreuís season was amazing for sure but we donít even know if that was his baseline. Or what last year even represented. Is he the hitter who smacked 29 homers in the first half, or the one who hit only 7 after the Break? Is he the one who struck out 82 times versus 22 walks in his first 350 plate appearances, or the one who walked 29 times against 49 strikeouts in his next 270? Yoennis Cespedes looked pretty great after his first season, too, but that was clearly not the player he really is. We know even less about Yasmany Tomas because he is so much younger coming to MLB than the others were. What we do know is that he shows good power and a reasonably decent eye at the plate against limited competition. The comps from observers have ranged from Marlon Byrd to Kevin Mitchell. Thatís a pretty huge range. Heíll be 24 this season so thereís still room for development; whether thatís as the next Jose Abreu or the next Dayan Viciedo will be interesting to watch.

 

23) Noah Syndergaard

Syndergaard is not as bad as he looked last year but also not as good as he looked in 2013. All that to say that heís still a good pitching prospect but Iím not convinced heís as good as everyone says he is. His stuff grades well with good velocity on his fastball and good break on his curve. However, his mechanics, while not poor, donít help his cause. He lacks deception in his motion and heís struggled with consistency in his delivery, which makes good stuff play down. He has the raw potential to dominate yet doesnítÖ kind of like Edwin Jackson. Call it a lack of make-up or focus or determination or whatever. When he was traded from Toronto to New York the consensus was that he would contribute quickly to the big league club, yet other less-talented Mets hurlers were promoted over him last year. He should make his way into the rotation some time this season but weíll likely see more results like last year for the near term.

 

24) Aaron Sanchez

Sanchez has some of the most unhittable stuff in the minors, not just because of the velocity but also because of the movement. So itís surprising to hear so many suggest that his eventual job will be as a closer or a late inning reliever rather than as a starter. Part of that is due to the lack of command, but part of it is due to his inability to maintain his composure when things donít break his way. He seems to pitch with more passion than precision, which is more the hallmark of a short reliever than someone who is asked to go two or three times through a line-up. How he performs this spring might have a huge impact on the direction his career takes. If he handles starting duties well, the Jays would like to see him there. But with concerns about Brett Cecilís shoulder, Sanchez is a strong candidate to become the default closer. Heís already proven he can handle pitching in short bursts so if the starting gig isnít immediately obvious, he could end up getting stuck in the same career track that Jonathan Papelbon did. Once a pitcher is proven capable in the back of the bullpen itís rare for them to move back into the rotation

 

25) Francisco Lindor

Lindor is a perfect example of why this list is significantly different than most other prospect lists. Lindorís glove is exceptional and he should find his way to the majors this year on the strength of that. Heís a very good contact hitter but his power is average at best. Heís registered a good number of stolen bases in the minors but thatís mostly been due to instincts, not raw speed. In fact, he got caught 7 of 10 attempts in Triple-A. So heís not going to get the green light much. So what you have is a high average shortstop with modest speed and modest powerÖ basically a one-category fantasy player depending on where he bats in the line-upÖ which is why heís ranked here rather than closer to the top 10.

 

26) Henry Owens

Thereís nothing exceptional about Owensí raw physical ability so his upside is rather limited. His instincts and maturity on the mound, on the other hand, are about as good as it gets. The result is that his stuff plays up better than it actually is and that his downside is also rather limited. Heís going to be a solid major league pitcher with an outside chance of having a few Cliff Lee type years once he gets acclimated

 

27) Tyler Kolek

Kolek is a mountain of a human being, standing 6í5Ē and weighing in at 260 pounds. Heís also what they call country-strong, having worked on his fatherís cattle farm for a good portion of his young life, presumably bench-pressing steers and curling bales of hay. In baseball terms, he possesses a fastball that has been clocked at a high school record 102 mph with heavy sink, and supplements it with two potentially above average breaking pitches (curve and slider). Heíll need to develop a change-up before heís ready for the majors but thatís at least a few years away. His rawness was in plain view during his first professional season: he walked or struck out more than a third of the batters he faced (31 of 88)

 

28) Brandon Finnegan

Finnegan drew much attention for the unique feat he accomplished last season of pitching in both a College World Series and Major League World Series in the same calendar year. Used as a lefty set-up man in the Royals bullpen, his real role will be as a starter beginning this season. His performance in spring training will determine whether or not he begins in the minors to refine his change-up or if heís ready now. Heís not tall but his delivery is easy and can bring mid-90s heat in short outings. It will probably sit in the low 90s once he gets established in the rotation. His slider is graded as average or slightly above but itís a pitch he can rely on consistently. Thatís one of the reasons he was so successful as a reliever: he always had at least two pitches he could throw where he wanted every time he took the mound. His upside is limited but he has almost no downside.

 

29) Alex Meyer

For the past two years Alex Meyer has spent at least some time on the shelf for shoulder soreness. That has no doubt delayed his major league debut by at least a year. Last yearís bout was attributed to fatigue and it kept him off the September roster. Meyer features a high 90s fastball that occasionally touches 100, a low 90s sinking fastball, a very good knuckle curve and an improving change-up. His 6í9Ē frame gives him not only a release point that is closer to the plate than most pitchers but also a significant downward trajectory that makes his fastballs very tough to elevate. He turned 25 in January which is a little older than most top prospects are when they make their major league debut but it should happen this year and probably early in the season.

 

30) Jung-Ho Kang

The first thing I heard about Kang was that he hit 40 home runs in the Korean League last year. My first reaction was a yawn. The parks there are small and the pitching might only be Double-A level. But then I heard that Marcus Thames was playing there and he only hit 36 homers. Marcus Thames?! Hey, he wasnít that bad a major league hitter. A couple times he hit 25 homers in a season. And then I found out it wasnít Marcus Thames but Eric Thames, career minor leaguer. Big difference. Back to the yawning. And then I saw video of Kang hitting, with a huge timing step in his swing that will be abused by major league pitchers. Still, the Pirates saw something in him and they are focused on getting him playing time at second, third and short so I better take a closer look. Good thing, too. This spring his step isnít nearly as pronounced and heís actually pretty good at barreling up a fastball. Weíll have to wait and see what he does with major league breaking pitches but thereís definitely major league potential here. His power probably translates closer to 15 homers rather than 40, but thatís still useful for a utility player.

 

31) Blake Swihart

Remember how Matt Wieters was going to become Joe Mauer, but with more power?It hasnít really worked out that way yet. Iím not saying it couldnít still, but weíre six years into Wieters major league career and he hasnít really come close to hitting for high average over a full season, much less win a batting title. Iím not knocking Wieters or Swihart, who is an excellent hitter in his own right. But comps to Mauer or Buster Posey for any minor league catcher are ambitious at best and grossly unfair at worst. Those two players are exceptional. I expect Swihart to become a solid hitting catcher but it may take a few years for him to fully develop as a hitter. His first few seasons will be focused on the things that catchers do that donít show up in the numbers like handling the pitching staff and defensive responsibilities. This is why I rarely recommend taking minor league catchers as prospects. So few develop quickly youíre simply better off taking a veteran rather than paying the premium price for a prospect. And that is one reason why Swihart is so low on this list. Frankly, Iím not sure I understand why the Red Sox are so loathe to part with him if it will bring back a top pitcher. Sure, heís a solid hitter with some power but he does not show the same command of the strikezone that any of the aforementioned demonstrated at the same age, nor does he show the upper end power potential of a Derrek Norris. Statistically, he looks more like Dioner Navarro.

 

32) Jesse Winker

Although it hasnít shown up in his home run numbers, Winker has the type of power that makes people stop what they are doing to watch him hit. He has a good eye at the plate and even when he struggled upon his promotion to Double-A last year, his walk and strikeout numbers were pretty closely matched. Right now, the power is mostly line-drive power to the alleys but with his eye and a little tweaking it could develop into above average home run pop. Not much of a runner with only an average arm, heís best suited for left field.

 

33) Luis Severino

Severino, like all slight Dominican pitchers with a good fastball and change-up, is often compared to Pedro Martinez. That doesnít do either player any favors but it is a decent starting point to look at who he is. He features a mid-90s fastball thatís been clocked as high as 99 mph, a change-up with lots of fade that heís confident using in any count or situation, and a decent slider that has the potential to be above average. What makes him not just another young hard-thrower is that he works all four quadrants of the strikezone like a veteran and has maturity beyond his years in both his decision-making and attitude on the mound. He wonít be Pedro but he wonít put that comparison to shame either.

 

34) Kyle Schwarber

A catcher by trade, evaluators are undecided as to whether he can stay behind the plate. The temptation is to get his bat as quickly to the majors as possible. But the Cubs have an avalanche of young hitting talent pushing its way to the majors so thereís no rush if Schwarber can prove he can make it wearing the tools of ignorance. His bat profiles as a middle of the order hitter, with potential to hit .300 with 30-homer power. He has no speed to speak of which is not surprising given his position. But thatís the tricky part. Will he have enough speed to cover a corner outfield spot or will he be relegated to first base, because DH is not an option on the North Side of Chicago. And with Anthony Rizzo manning first base, thatís not an option either for at least another decade. His catching skills are barely rudimentary but heís a tireless worker so no one is ruling it out as a possibility. If the Cubs decide they just want the bat, heíll have a chance to break with the team as early as next year.

 

35) Manuel Margot

Margot is farther down most lists largely because heís had so little minor league experience. But he was one of five players in the entire minors to produce a 10-homer, 40-steal season last year and over .300 for the year with excellent plate discipline. Heís not just a potential lead-off hitter, but a potentially great lead-off hitter. Even those who arenít as high on him admit that his floor is as a major league fourth outfielder due his excellent defense alone. Heís probably not going to develop above average power but the rest of his game is all plus.

 

36) Aaron Judge

Another prospect whose numbers donít match the perception, Judge looks like a hitter who could hit 90-homers a season. Heís a giant in the box, standing 6í7Ē, weighing 255 pounds and is built like a linebacker. He has the raw power one would expect upon first inspection, but in the game his swing is short, compact and geared toward hitting to all fields. His size opens holes in the strikezone to expploit but heís shown a keen ability to differentiate good pitch from bad so his walk totals are closely aligned with his strikeouts. Heíll make his money in right-field once heís ready and like Winker previously on this list, with a few tweaks to his approach we could see a massive shift from line-drives falling in the alleys to balls soaring over the fences.

 

37) David Dahl

From a strictly tools standpoint, I like Dahl more than Joc Pederson. He has more raw power and speed and is at least as good at putting the bat to the ball. Heís also a better defender. My concern with him is his ability to distinguish which pitches he can handle. Heís still young but at this point heís a little too aggressive going after everything near the plate which will become an issue as he gets closer to the majors. Fortunately, he has two things that weigh heavily in his favor: 1) heís still only 21 and 2) heíll be playing half his major league games in Colorado.

 

38) Braden Shipley

The Diamondback have moved Shipley along pretty quickly, having never let him stay at one level for very long. The result is that heís established some pretty solid peripheral numbers like strikeout rate and K/BB ratio but his ERAs have not been overly impressive. Still, at each stop Arizona has been pleased enough with his command of a mid-90s fastball with sink, a very good change-up and 12-to-6 hard curve to never let him get too comfortable. That process will slow down at least a little because he struggled with his command at Double-A. However, if past is prologue he wonít be there long and should be a factor for their rotation no later than 2016.

 

39) Hunter Harvey

Harvey is still young but he has all the things that scouts look for when they project a pitcherís future at the top of the rotation. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, touching 97 on occasion, he shows a slow curve and a solid change that will likely both become plus pitches, and displays the composure and instincts to make them all play above where they are. The only things holding him back are experience and injury. He was shut down at the end of last season with a flexor strain in his forearm, which might have been due to deteriorating mechanics from fatigue as the season wore on. Both doctors and front office personnel said that surgery was not necessary so thereís little reason to expect that his rise will be slowed. He should make a play for a shot in the rotation by late 2017.

 

40) Raul Mondesi

I give high marks to Mondesi for fighting through an entire season in the High-A Carolina League, but the 19-year old was clearly overmatched with a .211/.256/.354 slash line. This was clearly an organizational error and no fault of his. The raw tools are there, as evidenced by the 8 homers and 12 triples but thatís not enough to offset the poor contact rate and the nearly 6:1 strikeout to walk ratio. Heíll go back to Wilmington this spring (or at least he should) to refine his skills and master what the level has to offer. Heís still pretty young and with a strong start he could get a quick promotion to Double-A by mid-season which would put him back on the fast track to Kansas City. However, the Royals already have Alcides Escobar entering his prime at short so there will be no rush to get Mondesi there until itís clear heís ready.

 

41) Mark Appel

Even though his stuff would seem to be the tools of a top of the rotation ace Ė mid 90s fastball, wipeout slider and command of a good change Ė his delivery lets hitters get a good look at whatís coming and he has trouble maintaining consistency. The result is that in game action it plays down a tick, making him far more hittable than expected. He was drafted as ďmajor-league readyĒ but itís been two years in the minors since and it looks like at least a portion of another coming. He looked strong at times in the Arizona Fall League after some mid-season minor refinements but thereís still more work to do.

 

42) Andrew Heaney

Heaney makes this list because heís talented, but I made sure I put him in the Top 50 because of the tweet he sent out right after he was traded in consecutive days from the Marlins to the Dodgers to the Angels. ďWell, @Dodgers we had a good run! Great to be a part of such a storied franchise. #thanksforthememoriesĒ Funny, to be sure, but itís also an insight into who he is. Most players are devastated the first time they are traded; Heaney understood itís simply part of the game and made the best out of an awkward situation. That kind of awareness and ability to remain unfazed is often what separates merely talented pitchers from All-Star pitchers. Make no mistake: Heaney is very talented. With his delivery it looks like his low 90s fastball is coming from first base and headed toward the opposite on deck circle when it crosses the plate. Itís got some serious run to it.He also features a very good slider and change and decent control of all of them. He might very well be second only to Garrett Richards as the Angelsí best starting pitcher by next year.

 

43) Dalton Pompey

The Blue Jays cleared the way for Pompey to be their every day centerfielder this year after a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League. He possesses the type of speed an on base ability to become a premier lead-off hitter. He also possesses enough power in his bat to become a home run (or at least a doubles) threat to lead off a game. Heís got a right-fielderís arm and the range and instincts to play center field and might be the best centerfielder the Blue Jays have had since Devon White (with apologies to Vernon Wells).

 

44) Jameson Taillon

Taillon is another one of the recent crop of young hurlers who touch 100 mph with his fastball. Heís also got a knee-bucking up-and-down curve thatís already a plus pitch and could develop into a plus-plus. He has struggled with a change-up which could mean his future could be at the back end of a bullpen rather than the rotation. He missed all of 2014 after Tommy John surgery so heíll be brought back cautiously, but we should see him in Pittsburgh some time this season.

 

45) Rusney Castillo

Last season it looked as though the Red Sox had signed Superman out of Cuba. Pro-rated over a full season, Castilloís stats would have been 31 homers, 91 RBI, 91 runs and 46 steals in 550 at bats with a slash line of .333/.400/.528. Of course, since we only actually saw 36 at bats, these projections are subject to a large degree of variance due to the small sample. What scouts saw was a solid major leaguer capable of perhaps 20 homers, decent speed and capable of handling center field. That is probably the more accurate assessment.

 

46) Brandon Drury

The Diamondbacks have two solid third base prospects: Drury and Jake Lamb. Lamb is the better defender and has arguably more power, but Drury has a better plan when he comes to the plate and his swing is not as long to the ball. In my view that makes him the better bet to stick in the majors. Arizona has toyed with the idea of moving him to second base so that they could get both players in their line-up one day. His performance in the AFL gave reason for optimism that this shift could work. Heís still probably a year away from seriously challenging for a major league job but he has the potential to be an All-Star hitter, a la Jeff Kent.

 

47) Steven Matz

Matz has often been listed in the addendum when it comes to the Metsí top tier pitching prospects, but that is quickly changing. He has yet to post an ERA over 2.62 at any level and has the stuff to prove thatís not a statistical anomaly. His fastball sits in the low 90s generally but has touched as high as 98, and he compliments it with a plus change. He also has a show-me curve to keep hitters honest and decent command of all three. At worst, heís a high leverage reliever in the Mets pen this year and at best heís the second best starter on the team behind Matt Harvey.

 

48) Rafael Devers

Devers is the youngest player on this list and with that his future brings the greatest amount of uncertainty. Foremost in that regard is his eventual position. Heíll never be a great defender at third but he has the hands, feet and arm to be at least average there. There are also questions as to how well heíll handle left-handed pitching, although that is a common concern and no reflection on his current ability. What Devers does bring and figures to bring more of as he matures is plus power to all fields and a reasonably advanced understanding at the plate. His potential with the bat virtually assures heíll be in the majors one day and probably as a middle-of-the-order hitter.

 

49) Michael Taylor

The most common comp for Taylor is Mike Cameron and itís one I happen to agree with strongly. He has great potential in both power and speed and his defense will make him a perennial gold glover in center field. He even has a decent eye for drawing walks and his strikeout rate, while very high, isnít gaudy. The key for Taylor to stay in the majors will be his ability to make contact. Denard Spanís injury this spring should give him the chance to prove he belongs and make Mike Rizzoís job this fall a lot easier when it comes time to decide whether to keep Span or not.

 

50) Touki Toussaint

I have to admit that part of the reason Mr. Toussant is here is because he has a great name. But one doesnít get on this list without some ability and TT has a bushel of it. His 95 mph fastball has a lot of life to it and he also features a curveball that is one of the best in the minors. And if that wasnít enough he also has a change-up that could develop into a plus pitch. The only reason heís not much higher on this list is because his command last year was pretty poor. On the bright side, the D-backs worked on his mechanics in instructional league and the results were reportedly encouraging. Heíll turn 19 this June so there is no rush to promote him. However, if the adjustments made last fall pay off with improved control, he could ascend quickly. He has true ace potential.

 

Thatís this yearís list. Good luck prospecting and Iíll try to do better next year.

 

Others who were considered:

Josh Bell, Robert Stephenson, Jose Peraza, Jose Berrios, Austin Meadows, Jorge Alfaro, D.J. Peterson, Eddie Butler, Eduardo Rodriguez, Aaron Blair, Nick Gordon, Hunter Renfroe, Maikel Franco, Kevin Plawecki, Jake Thompson, Kyle Zimmer, Nomar Mazara, Brandon Nimmo, Tim Anderson, Sean Manaea, Daniel Robertson, Sean Newcomb, Matt Wisler, Kyle Freeland. Marco Gonzales, Stephen Piscotty, Trea Turner, C.J. Edwards, Jeff Hoffman, Kohl Stewart, Alex Reyes, Grant Holmes, Franklin Barreto, A.J. Cole, Michael Conforto, Orlando Arcia, Clint Frazier, Andrew Susac, Austin Hedges, Alex "Chi Chi" Gonzalez, J.T. Realmuto, Reynaldo Lopez, Mike Foltynewicz, Dilson Herrera, Reese McGuire, Steven Souza, Willy Adames, Vince Velasquez, Jake Lamb, Matt Olson, Ryan McMahon, Raisel Iglesias, Ahmed Rosario, Albert Almora, Raimel Tapia, Bradley Zimmer, Joe Ross, Billy McKinney, Lucas Sims, Justin O'Conner, Alen Hanson, Nick Kingham, Christian Bethancourt, Brian Johnson, Tyrone Taylor, Domingo Santana, Miguel Almonte, Erick Fedde, Greg Bird, Kyle Crick, Hunter Dozier, Rob Kaminksy, Max Fried, Rio Ruiz, Colin Moran, Derek Hill, Steven Moya, Ozhaino Albies, Spencer Adams, Lewis Brinson, Jorge Mateo, Garin Cecchini, Max Pentecost, Francelis Montas, Brett Phillips, Dominic Smith, Michael Lorenzen, Nick Williams, Luis Ortiz, Chance Cisco, Rafael Montero, Micah Johnson, Tyler Beede, Pierce Johnson, Lance McCullers, Tyrell Jenkins, Lewis Thorpe, Yoan Lopez, Gary Sanchez, Devon Travis, Luke Jackson, Francisco Mejia, Roman Quinn, Adelberto Mejia, Rymer Liriano, Robert Refsnyder, Marcos Molina, Nick Burdi, Jacob Lindgren, Manny Banuelos, Jorge Polanco, Randal Grichuk, Pete O'Brien, Kendall Graveman, Roberto Osuna, Giovanny Urshela, Anthony Ranaudo, Gabriel Guerrero, Hak-Ju Lee, Michael Feliz, Adam Miller, Will Inman, Chuck Lofgren, Brandon Erbe, Billy Rowell, Eric Hurley