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2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 638

post #19111 of 73002
Thread Starter 
Yep and shoulder problems are a lot worse than elbows nowadays.

Walker needs to fix that delivery or he'll need surgery soon too.

But, as long as he develops his CB/CH, he'll be solid pitcher. Last year turned me off a bit on him as an ace.
post #19112 of 73002
I'm one of the biggest Tai apologists here but even I don't believe Price comes to Seattle as the 3rd or 4th best pitcher in the rotation.
:( Danny Hultzen...I feel for the kid. He was || close last season but suffered another setback. Some say it's cause of the delivery and the injury was inevitable. He's expected to miss most if not all of the 2014 season..should he return to form I think he's a # 3 guy at worst in the rotation. Another name who's already flashed in Safeco last season is James Paxton.
post #19113 of 73002
Thread Starter 
They just need to rest him until 2015. There's really no need to rush him.

At least Paxton showed that it's not Seattle staff in the minors that need attending to. They changed his delivery and he finally got some consistent command.
post #19114 of 73002
Felix, Price, Kuma, Walker, Paxton. pimp.gif

I don't care who's in the lineup...That rotation gives a team a chance to win every single night.
post #19115 of 73002
Originally Posted by 651akathePaul View Post

Felix, Price, Kuma, Walker, Paxton. pimp.gif

I don't care who's in the lineup...That rotation gives a team a chance to win every single night.

not with our offense laugh.gif
PSN: Aiinatural
Go Hawks, Mariners, Ducks
PSN: Aiinatural
Go Hawks, Mariners, Ducks
post #19116 of 73002
Bundy and Hultzen will both rebound. I believe.
post #19117 of 73002
Thread Starter 
Q&A: Matt Thornton, New York Yankees Pitcher.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Matt Thornton isn’t ready to call it a career. The southpaw reliever is 37 years old and is coming off a so-so season — the Red Sox left him off their post-season roster — but he feels he’s far from done. In fact, he just signed a free-agent contract with the New York Yankees.

It took a long time for him to get started on his career, though. Thornton was drafted out of high school by the Detroit Tigers, but his passion was basketball. The Sturgis, Mich., native eschewed his home-state team and enrolled at nearby Grand Valley State University, where he played both sports. Three years later, the Seattle Mariners made him the 22nd overall pick of the 1998 draft.

Thornton proceeded to spend seven years in the minor leagues. He reached Seattle at the age of 27, and after a pair of bumpy campaigns with the Mariners, he finally hit his stride after being dealt to the Chicago White Sox. Over 10 big-league seasons, Thornton has appeared in 606 games and averaged more than a strikeout per inning.

Thornton talked about his long road to big-league success late in the 2013 season.
Thornton on getting drafted out of high school: “I didn’t really know much about baseball. I watched it, but I was always a basketball guy. Basketball was my No. 1 sport and I played baseball for fun. I played summer baseball in high school, and in college as a secondary sport. I went to Grand Valley on a basketball scholarship.

“When I was drafted [in the 27th round] I was looking forward to going to college and playing basketball. I’m sure it was [all projection] I was 6-foot-5 and left-handed. I don’t even know how hard I threw. We didn’t have radar guns at my high school. It was a small school.”

On getting drafted out of college: “I actually asked why . I was 6-foot-6, left-handed, and because I was a basketball player, they knew I was an athlete. I threw in the 90s. They also knew I’d be a quick sign. I’d be a project and would take some time, but they felt I had some talent.

“I still knew nothing about pitching. Again, basketball had been my priority. I had no idea how to make an adjustment. I didn’t know anything about mechanics. What I did was what my dad taught me when I was a kid. That was part of why it took me so long to have any success in the minor leagues. They broke me down completely and built me back up.

“They broke down my leg kick, my front side, my arm swing. Everything. I remember Rafael Chaves taking me out, and he had a big bucket of baseballs. I was 22 years old, it was extended spring, about 7 in the morning in Arizona. All I did was take baseballs — he’d hand them to me — and throw them over the fence, just to get my arm swing right. It was a complete overhaul. If you saw a video of me pitching in college, you wouldn’t even know it was me.”

On learning to pitch: “When I started out in pro ball, I threw fastballs. I didn’t really know how to throw a slider; I’d never been taught the right way to throw a slider. I didn’t have a changeup. It was basically, Throw it in that direction.’ I threw a lot of balls.

“We worked on refining my mechanics. Mechanics were a big thing for me. Just being on the mound, and being able to pitch, was huge. After awhile, I began to have some success. Things started to iron out pretty well. I was throwing strikes.

“In 2001, I had a really nice year. At the end of 2000, I started throwing the ball better. I went to my third instructional league that year, and in 2001 kind of had my breakout.”

On velocity and Tommy John surgery: “I think I touched 94 or 95 [mph], but I usually pitched at 91-92. That was before Tommy John. When I came back from that, I threw a lot harder.

“I [hurt my arm] in June 2002, had the surgery and got back in May the next year. I didn’t throw harder right away after coming back. I went to the Fall League that year and had about a 12.00 ERA. I just wasn’t right. But I came back the next spring training. That’s when my velocity spiked. I was up to 96-97.”

On his first big league season: “I gave up 13 home runs in 50-something innings. I walked almost a batter per inning. I had a game where we were up 8-0 against Kansas City, and I came in to finish the game in the ninth inning. I went walk, walk, double play, walk, walk, grand slam, strikeout. I think I threw 47 pitches. That’s essentially what my season was like. Walks killed me. If I threw the ball over, I was OK, but I was still learning how to pitch. I really struggled.

“I was extremely frustrated. I don’t take failure very well. I don’t take letting teammates down very well. That eats me up more than anything. If I give up a run, and we win the game, I don’t care too much. But in that one game, I caused our guys to have to get up in the pen. I had trouble holding an 8-run lead. Games like that weigh on you.

“The trade came the following spring training, and the fresh start helped. I’d been [with Seattle] a long time. I knew everybody — I knew the coaches at every level — and it became a little too much. They all wanted to help, so I was getting input from every single pitching coach we had. They wanted me to be good, and I wanted to be good, but it became an overload kind of thing. I was trying to do too many things out there. I wasn’t focusing on the things I needed to focus on.”

On becoming a reliever: “I think learning how to pitch out of the pen was big for my career. As a starter, you have a little more leeway to work through things. As a bullpen guy, you have to get up and go. It was a big change.

“After Tommy John, I had some nerve damage in my neck — the upper thoracic area — and missed some more time. That was in 2003. After that, I lost my changeup, which for awhile had been a good pitch for me. Having a third pitch was obviously extremely helpful. The pen was a move they thought was right. I’ve had success as a reliever, so it worked out well for me.”

On throwing over 90% fastballs in his best seasons: “My first few years in Chicago, I was still considered to have some control issues. Hitters would go up there and take a pitch, so I was getting a free strike a lot of times. That’s gone. I get a lot of first-pitch swings now. But I was locating my fastball well and had late cut on it. I was sitting around 96. It was working, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“When I got to Chicago, [pitching coach] Don Cooper told me to simplify things. He was one voice for me there. He asked, ‘What do you feel most comfortable throwing strike one with?’ I said, ‘Fastball, glove side, inside to a righty, away to a lefty.’ He said, ’Where do you generally start a right-handed hitter off?’ I said, ‘Fastball, down and away.’ He looked at me. Then he said, ‘I want you to throw strike one however you want to. If you throw strike one with your stuff, double down. If you throw strike two, double down again.’ He believed I could live on my fastball.

“Confidence was a big part of it. I had a little success in 2006, took a little step back in 2007, and in 2008 I came out and established myself as a go-to guy throughout a pennant chase.”

On his fastball: “A lot of people think it’s straight, but I have a little late cut on it. I throw from the left side of the rubber, so if I go in to a righty, it’s coming across the plate and burying in on them. They think it’s going to be a strike, and it usually ends up in. It’s not a cutter, it’s just that when I get good extension, I get some late cut.

“I’ve tinkered with a cutter before, but there was too much inconsistency with it. It was one of those things where I didn’t want to get beat with my third pitch in the situations I pitch in. A lot of pitchers will tell you that a well-located fastball is the best pitch in baseball. It’s a matter of making your pitches, and I feel if I locate my fastball, I’m going to have results.”

On getting limited opportunities as a closer: “I had some really good years where Bobby Jenks was there, in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Bobby was a great closer. I got my chance in 2011 and things didn’t really go my way. I didn’t do the job, so I lost that chance. Sergio [Santos] took over that role.

“I’ve got a handful of saves in my career. I’ve never felt overwhelmed by the ninth inning. I don’t think it’s any different; it just hasn’t been my inning. I honestly believe my job is to do what’s best for the team. Whatever they need me for, whether it’s the sixth inning, the seventh inning, eighth inning, fifth inning — whatever it is, I’m going to do that.”

On his career and future: “I’m far from being done. I’m going to play as long as I can. I love the game of baseball. I love the competition and I want to win a championship. We have a great opportunity to do that this year in Boston, but even if we win the World Series, I have no desire to retire.

“I’m not sure if I’m satisfied with what I’ve accomplished. As an athlete, you’re never satisfied. You always want to do more. The game will tell you when it’s time to go. But looking back, I’ve always given it everything I have. I have no regrets. It’s been a great ride, and I’ve loved every second of it, but again, I’m not done. I hope I have another four or five years.”

Gaining a Star-Level Player.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Inspired by the Yankees’ loss of Robinson Cano, I got to thinking about how teams have coped with missing stars in the past, which led to this post published earlier Tuesday. Setting an arbitrary “star” threshold of 6 WAR, the data sample wasn’t huge over 25 years, but on average teams that lost stars fared only a little bit worse than teams that kept them. And I didn’t even control for circumstances by, say, including payroll information. Basically, stars are great and more or less replaceable if you can prepare for a departure and spread resources around. The Yankees should survive a Cano-less existence.

The first comment below the post points to an obvious follow-up:

Obligatory: How teams fare gaining a star level player

So, now this is that.

The definition’s the same. For our purposes, a star-level player will be a player coming off a season worth at least 6 WAR. Again, this is arbitrary, and as recent examples, it misses the Angels signing Albert Pujols, the Angels signing Josh Hamilton, the Marlins signing Jose Reyes, and the Blue Jays trading for R.A. Dickey. As it happens, those acquisitions didn’t turn out to help a lot, but a cutoff is a cutoff and this is how I proceeded. I examined the 25-year window between 1989-2013, and I found 40 instances in which a team added a 6-WAR player over the offseason. You might notice that, earlier, there were 34 instances in which a team lost a 6-WAR player over the offseason. The numbers don’t match up because I excluded seasons in which a 6-WAR player changed teams, like Cliff Lee in 2009, or Cliff Lee in 2010. Those seasons work, for this post. They didn’t work, for that post.

The following table contains all the relevant information. There are the players, and the players’ new teams. There’s the winning percentage with the player, following the winning percentage the year before. There’s the change in winning percentage. There’s the team payroll with the player, following the team payroll the year before. There’s the percent change in payroll. Payroll information was taken from Baseball-Reference, and depending on your sources there’ll be small disagreements, but these numbers should convey the right ideas. We don’t need to be perfectly accurate to the dollar.

Season Player Team Prev_W% W% W%Change Prev_$(m) $(m) $Change%
2013 Michael Bourn Indians 0.420 0.568 0.148 79 87 11%
2011 Cliff Lee Phillies 0.599 0.630 0.031 142 173 22%
2011 Adrian Beltre Rangers 0.556 0.593 0.037 57 94 66%
2011 Carl Crawford Red Sox 0.549 0.556 0.006 165 167 1%
2010 Chone Figgins Mariners 0.525 0.377 -0.148 100 87 -14%
2010 Cliff Lee Mariners 0.525 0.377 -0.148 100 87 -14%
2010 Roy Halladay Phillies 0.574 0.599 0.025 116 142 23%
2010 Javier Vazquez Yankees 0.636 0.586 -0.049 210 211 0%
2009 CC Sabathia Yankees 0.549 0.636 0.086 212 210 -1%
2009 Mark Teixeira Yankees 0.549 0.636 0.086 212 210 -1%
2005 J.D. Drew Dodgers 0.574 0.438 -0.136 93 83 -11%
2005 Adrian Beltre Mariners 0.389 0.426 0.037 82 88 8%
2005 Carlos Beltran Mets 0.438 0.512 0.074 102 101 -1%
2005 Randy Johnson Yankees 0.623 0.586 -0.037 184 208 13%
2004 Javy Lopez Orioles 0.438 0.481 0.043 74 52 -30%
2004 Gary Sheffield Yankees 0.623 0.623 0.000 153 184 21%
2004 Alex Rodriguez Yankees 0.623 0.623 0.000 153 184 21%
2003 Jeff Kent Astros 0.519 0.537 0.019 63 71 12%
2003 Jim Thome Phillies 0.497 0.531 0.034 58 71 22%
2002 Roberto Alomar Mets 0.506 0.466 -0.040 93 95 2%
2002 Jason Giambi Yankees 0.594 0.640 0.046 113 126 12%
2001 Alex Rodriguez Rangers 0.438 0.451 0.012 71 89 25%
2001 David Wells White Sox 0.586 0.512 -0.074 32 66 107%
2001 Mike Mussina Yankees 0.540 0.594 0.053 93 113 21%
1999 Mo Vaughn Angels 0.525 0.432 -0.093 42 56 33%
1999 Brian Jordan Braves 0.654 0.636 -0.019 61 73 20%
1999 Randy Johnson Diamondbacks 0.401 0.617 0.216 32 69 113%
1999 Kevin Brown Dodgers 0.512 0.475 -0.037 49 81 66%
1999 Albert Belle Orioles 0.488 0.481 -0.006 73 81 11%
1999 Rafael Palmeiro Rangers 0.543 0.586 0.043 57 77 35%
1999 Roger Clemens Yankees 0.704 0.605 -0.099 67 87 30%
1998 Kevin Brown Padres 0.469 0.605 0.136 37 47 25%
1998 Pedro Martinez Red Sox 0.481 0.568 0.086 44 57 31%
1998 Chuck Knoblauch Yankees 0.593 0.704 0.111 62 67 7%
1997 Roger Clemens Blue Jays 0.457 0.469 0.012 31 47 54%
1994 Rafael Palmeiro Orioles 0.525 0.563 0.038 29 39 33%
1993 Greg Maddux Braves 0.605 0.642 0.037 35 42 20%
1993 Barry Bonds Giants 0.444 0.636 0.191 33 35 6%
1992 Greg Swindell Reds 0.457 0.556 0.099 26 36 37%
1991 Darryl Strawberry Dodgers 0.531 0.574 0.043 22 33 49%
40 instances in which a team added a 6-WAR player. Out of those 40:

26 instances in which the winning percentage went up
2 instances in which the winning percentage didn’t change
12 instances in which the winning percentage went down
Between 2003 and 2004, the Yankees added both Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez, and both years they finished 101-61. The biggest gain belongs to the 1999 Diamondbacks, who went from expansion to contender overnight. The biggest loser is the 2010 Mariners, who added both Chone Figgins and Cliff Lee and then wound up one of the worst teams in baseball. Lee didn’t survive the season; Figgins didn’t last his whole contract.

But, okay, we care about averages. On average, in the years before, these teams won 53.2% of their games. In the years with the new star players, these teams won 55.3% of their games, an increase of about 3.5 wins over a full season. And remember, that’s not just a 3.5-game improvement — the teams were also fighting regression to the mean, which would’ve taken them closer to .500 as a group. Immediately, the new players helped, just as you’d expect them to. When you get a star, you figure his best season under your control will be his first.

But the table doesn’t just have winning-percentage data. On average, payroll went up about 22%. Which is exactly what you’d expect, since a team that acquires a star player is usually going for it and going for it implies some extra spending. There were actually a few instances in which a team acquired a star and trimmed payroll, as the 2010 Mariners did, or as the 2004 Orioles did. But these are exceptions, and in a dozen cases, payroll increased by 30% or more.

When you increase payroll, you increase your win expectations, because money buys players and players are wins in short-sleeve costumes. So you’d expect the teams to get better anyway, just from spending more, even if they didn’t get stars. I can’t say by how much you’d expect them to get better, but here are some interesting points:

in these 40 instances, teams increased payroll by an average of 22%, and they improved by 3.5 wins
in 32 instances, teams increased payroll, coming out to an average gain of 30%, and they improved by 5.3 wins
in 27 instances, teams increased payroll by at least 10%, coming out to an average gain of 35%, and they improved by 4.5 wins
In 14 instances, teams increased payroll by at least 25%, coming out to an average gain of 50%, and they improved by 4.9 wins
Take those 32 instances in which teams increased payroll. The 16 teams that increased payroll by the greatest percentage added about five wins. The 16 teams that increased payroll by the lowest percentage added about six wins. The first group had an average payroll gain of 42%. The second group had an average payroll gain of 13%.

For fun, let’s further mix some signals. Between 1998-1999, the Diamondbacks more than doubled payroll, adding Randy Johnson, and they went straight from 65 to 100 wins and a berth in the playoffs. Between 2000-2001, the White Sox more than doubled payroll, adding David Wells, and they went from 95 to 83 wins and a third-place finish. The next-biggest payroll hike belongs to the Dodgers between 1998-1999, when they added Kevin Brown, and they went from 83 to 77 wins. There’s a correlation between money and success. The coefficient isn’t 1.

The gist: of course, on average, teams who add star-level players tend to improve, at least in year one. They improve, on average, by a handful of wins, but they also tend to increase payroll, sometimes by kind of a lot, and any increase in payroll should lead to greater success on the field because money buys numbers and numbers are wins. I don’t know enough to say whether things are changing, but it’s worth keeping in mind additional recent cautionary examples like the Angels, Marlins, and Blue Jays, who have gone for it and gotten burned. They added stars that didn’t quite meet the threshold above, and they didn’t succeed. Yet, the Phillies were thrilled to have added Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. There’s a time and a place, and it’s always important to do things wisely, even if you feel like one player can put your team over the top.

The long and short of it is that the Yankees should be fine without Robinson Cano, relative to the Yankees with him. And the Mariners should be better with Robinson Cano, at least right away, but they probably won’t be better by leaps and bounds unless they do plenty more or end up getting lucky. Stars are the best players in baseball, but the best players in baseball are a relatively small part of baseball.

Grant Balfour, Free Agent Closer at a Fair Price.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Free agent closers are the most expensive single player type in baseball. When Matt Swartz did his price calculations for different positions a couple of years ago, he found that teams were paying approximately three times the average $/WAR for relievers as they were for the general population of players. And a disproportionate amount of the money going to relievers was paid to the “proven closers” who hit free agency coming off strong seasons with big save numbers. While solid setup guys might collection a few million and get a two or even three year deal occasionally, big name closers were racking up paychecks that paid them like above average everyday players, with the crazy Jonathan Papelbon contract ($50 million over four years) as perhaps the height of the market’s absurd closer valuations.

The days of Papelbon-style contracts for brand name closers seem to be over. Last year, Rafael Soriano got the largest contract of any free agent reliever, at $28 million for two years, and besides Mariano Rivera‘s final one year contract with the Yankees, no other reliever got more than $7 million per year. This year, Joe Nathan was the #1 closer on the free agent market, and he signed for $20 million over two years after the Rangers opted not to make him a $14 million dollar qualifying offer. Nathan’s age was always going to keep him from getting a long contract, but Nathan isn’t the only closer on the market, and now Grant Balfour is showing that the market for closers might not be what it used to be.

Today, Balfour has reportedly agreed to terms with the Orioles on a two year, $15 million contract. For reference, that’s basically the same AAV but for one fewer year than Jonathan Broxton got from the Reds last year and Brandon League got from the Dodgers. It’s slightly more than Mike Adams got from the Phillies, except Mike Adams wasn’t a “proven closer”. A couple of years ago, this contract — adjusted for inflation — got you Frank Francisco, Bobby Jenks, or Jose Valverde. Balfour signed a deal that, in other years, would have paid him as if he was either a good setup man or a mediocre closer.

But Balfour is neither of those things. Over the last three years, Balfour ranks 10th in the majors among relievers in RA9-WAR, sandwiched right in between Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. He’s thrown almost 200 innings and has an ERA- of 64, and last year, he went 38 for 41 in save opportunities. This is the kind of pitcher that the market has historically paid a premium for.

Not this year, though. After years of paying for saves and reputations, the market seems to be correcting itself, even with runaway revenues leading teams to inflate spending on other types of players. Balfour actually got less guaranteed money from the Orioles in this deal than the Rockies just gave to a lefty specialist in Boone Logan, though it is for one less year, so the AAV is still slightly higher. Even still, Balfour just signed the same contract that Juan Uribe got from the Dodgers yesterday as a defense-first third baseman. He got a little more than Justin Morneau got as an underpowered first baseman. He got a little less than Phil Hughes, a back-end starter trying to revive his career.

The closer premium seems to be shrinking. And in Balfour’s case, this results in a pretty fair deal for the Orioles, who have managed to swap out regression candidate closers while saving some money in the process.

Even though I like the price, we have to acknowledge that Balfour is still a pretty strong regression candidate. A large part of his recent success has been a .230 BABIP over the last three years, and while relievers can hold down BABIP more than starters, especially fly-ball relievers, you have to think that he won’t get as many fly outs in Baltimore as he did in Oakland. His career BABIP is .264, so even just regressing back towards that should make him less valuable in the future than he was in the recent past.

And the Orioles did just sign up for his age-36/37 seasons, so we have to factor in some expected decline due to normal wear and tear. The Orioles shouldn’t expect him to match his recent performances, but this contract leaves plenty of room for regression without it being a problem. Even at $7 million per year, Balfour only has to be worth about +1 win to justify the deal, which based on RA9, is about half of what he’s been worth on an annual basis over the last few years. This deal pays him for something closer to his FIP, but as a high-K/high-FB reliever, Balfour should be expected to outperform his FIP by some margin.

This isn’t the biggest bargain of the winter or anything, and if Balfour’s hit prevention ways were unduly influenced by Oakland’s ballpark, perhaps this won’t even work out all that well for Baltimore. But, this contract is worth noting simply for the fact that it suggests that teams really are learning from the mistakes of the past, and the ability of a reliever to turn a high save season into a big free agent contract seems to be going away.

The Yankees Search For An Infielder.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Though the research put forth by Jeff Sullivan today on teams following the loss of a six-win player wasn’t extremely damning — teams letting stars go didn’t even lose two wins more than teams that chose to retain their stars — it’s hard to see the Yankees as having done much more than tread water this offseason. For all the good that signing Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann did, going from Robinson Cano to Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson shot a hole in their infield. And now, with unclear remaining resources and a third baseman fighting to play in 2014, it looks like the Yankees are still an infielder short of a full deck. What available infielder could help the team the most?

It is possible that they don’t need *much* more, and that’s why teams losing stars don’t usually fall off the face of the earth. You can spread that money around elsewhere. For about the same as Cano cost, the Yankees got Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann. By pushing Brett Gardner to left and Vernon Wells into a bench role, Ellsbury probably represents a two-win upgrade in center. McCann replaces Chris Stewart and therefore probably adds two-plus wins over the 23rd-ranked production the Yankees got out of their catchers last year. With Cano projected for over five wins and Roberts and Johnson combining for maybe two wins, you could argue that the Yankees have actually improved already.

But that ignores the rest of the roster. The starting rotation now features David Phelps and Michael Pineda on the depth chart at four and five, and last year they got almost four wins from those slots. The projection systems are split on Phelps — particularly his ability to suppress the long ball — but with Pineda’s injury history, it’s hard to bank on four wins from those two pitchers. So remaining resources may head to the starting pitching market, and maybe even Masahiro Tanaka.

What resources remain for the Yankees to spend used to be a rare question, but it’s more common these days. At one point, it was a stated goal that the team would cut down to $189 million to avoid luxury tax ramifications. But that was before the team missed the playoffs for the second time in 19 years. Right now their luxury tax eligible payroll stands at $218 million according to excellent work by Mike Axisa. A season-long suspension for Alex Rodriguez would knock that down to $184.5, giving them four million or so to play with — but Hal Steinbrenner may be softening his stance against adding more.

So let’s impose two situations. One in which the next infielder added needs to have no impact on the luxury tax. With a trade of Ichiro Suzuki — rumored to be on the block currently — that infielder could cost as much as ten million dollars next year, provided Rodriguez is suspended. But that’s only if the team buying Ichiro pays his entire salary or has that sort of infielder lying around.

The other situation has no restrictions on the luxury tax. News from the Rodriguez fiasco or the lack of a trade market for Ichiro may paint the Yankees into this corner anyway.

First, which infielders could help if the team skimps? Ideally, they could play third base, but Kelly Johnson does give them some flexibility. It’s tempting to look Michael Young‘s way, since he was above-average with the stick last year, but his eroding defense has become such an issue that it’s robbed him of most of his value. He’s never once been a positive with the glove at third, but it’s been since 2011 since he was even passable. But there is rumored interest there, and at least one projection system is more upbeat about his defense in 2014, and his capacity to be above replacement.

If defense is more a priority, an Eric Chavez reunion might make sense. The Diamondbacks are supposedly concentrating on re-signing him, but he made three million dollars in a season that saw his defense slip further than it ever had before. A slight regression to his career mean, even at 36, could make him a bargain at anything under four million… which they could do without an Ichiro trade.

Closer to the bottom of the barrel, you have your Wilson Betemit and Mark Reynolds types, but neither is really passable at third for any long stretch of time at this point. The Yanks kicked the tires on Kevin Youkilis and were lucky that didn’t send him to the DL — but Youkilis told them he wants to play on the west coast.

The non-tender market is a tough place to shop, but there might be a name the Yankees should consider. Justin Turner isn’t a great defender, but he might be a better defender than anyone else on this list. He should be cheap. He fits the profile of past successful non-tender pickups in that he was above replacement level last year and is capable of playing many different positions. At the plate, he’s nothing special, but he makes contact and has shown a modicum of power in the past. He’s right-handed, in case the Bombers are more worried about Kelly Johnson‘s left-handedness than they should be. And he’d be cheap.

But those names aren’t really the stuff Yankee fan dreams are made of. If the team decides to blow right on past that $189 number, some options open up. They could sign Stephen Drew and ask Derek Jeter very politely if he would consider playing third base. That, with a Tanaka signing, would be the best solution money can buy at this point.

If they are willing to take on other team’s bad contracts, the name that jumps to mind is Brandon Phillips. Since the Yankees are on his no-trade clause, Phillips is asking for more money if the Reds trade him into pinstripes. If the Yankees give the player what he’s asking for, and take on all of the contract, it might not take Brett Gardner to get a deal done.

At four years and $50 million, plus whatever Phillips wants added, that’s a steep price tag in terms of years if not dollars, plus the added loss of future tax dollars as they head past $189 million this year. The Braves are trying to unload the $26.4 million left on Dan Uggla‘s contract over the next two years. Even though his season last year was… not pretty, Uggla showed his customary power and came within a hair of the league average for on-base percentage at second base. His contact rate on pitches outside the zone dropped — and that’s to be expected of a 33-year-old — but so did his contact rate inside the zone. Much was made of his corrective eye surgery during the season, and his playing time suffered on his return. Maybe a little more recovery time after that surgery will allow Uggla to at least hit balls in the zone better.

If Uggla is truly less than a two-win player next year, the Braves might have to throw in $10 million to make the deal work. If they put that ten million against the first year, Uggla could cost as little as four million dollars in 2014 and actually fit a $189 million plan for this season. With today’s signing of Matt Thornton, they would still need to jettison Ichiro, but they’d only need to save two or three million to make it work.

The nice thing about the Dan Uggla Plan is that the Yankees can do it now and stay below the $189 million number, assuming an A-Rod suspension lasts the year. Adding Uggla and inviting Justin Turner to camp could give the Yankees two wins at third base (by pushing some of the talent around the infield) in 2014, and that was a position at which New York failed to produce a win last season. If the Yankees want to stick to their budget, you may see this sort of solution in the Bronx next year, and it’s not necessarily a terrible thing.

Paving the Way for a Domestic Posting System.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Yesterday, Major League Baseball officially announced their new agreement with Nippon Professional Baseball regarding the transfer of players from Japan to the U.S. The most prominent change in the rules is the $20 million maximum fee that NPB teams will receive, and this is the aspect of the rules that has drawn the most attention. However, there is another significant change to the rules that is worth looking at, especially because of its potential long term ramifications on domestic players already under contract to MLB teams.

Under the old posting system, the move of a player from Japan to MLB was somewhat akin to a trade, only with MLB teams using cash instead of players as the currency to acquire the player’s rights. The system wasn’t that different from what we see in minor trades between MLB teams, where a player’s rights are transferred from one club to another in exchange for a small cash payment. In the last year, players such as Chris Nelson, Mike Carp, Casper Wells, and Travis Blackley have all been traded for cash, as their rights were sold from one team to another in exchange for monetary compensation. The posting system was basically just this kind of trade, only magnified, because the players getting posted were usually quite good.

The new system isn’t really like that at all. In fact, MLB isn’t even calling the payment to NPB teams a “posting fee” anymore; it is now a “release fee”, but a more simple description of it would just be a sales tax. No longer are teams buying exclusive rights to a player, as the agreement essentially allows posted players to become free agents, negotiating with any team who agrees to pay the release fee if he signs a contract with them. Because the release fee is only due after a player signs his contract, there is no actual barrier to gaining negotiating rights with the player, and the expectation should be that every team with even passing interest in acquiring talent will agree to the release fee for pretty much every player posted. There’s no cost to gaining those rights, so it should be expected that a posted player will be able to negotiate with any team he wants.

In reality, the posting system will function for MLB teams like a sales tax does for regular consumers. Just like we are all free to go into a store and shop around, MLB teams will be able to shop for posted Japanese players knowing that the final bill will just include a $20 million tax (or less, for non-impact talent) on the purchase price. No longer are teams really buying anything with that fee, since it doesn’t grant them any real privileges that other teams don’t have access to. Instead of it mimicking a minor trade, the system now just looks like free agency, only with an extra fee tacked on at the end.

Whether this system is better or worse for MLB teams remains to be seen; it is clearly better for the player and worse for NPB teams, but I don’t think we know yet how this will affect MLB teams and the total cost of acquiring a posted player. Even without knowing exactly how this will play out on the U.S. side, however, I think this system is interesting because it could theoretically work here as a domestic transfer system as well.

For instance, let’s just say you are the GM of a small market team, and your annual payroll can’t really exceed $65 million or so. You control the rights to a Cy Young caliber pitcher for two more seasons, but he’s getting pricey enough that he’s going to eat up a large chunk of your budget, and you have to trade him before he reaches free agency because you can’t afford the long term contract he’s going to demand. There are a lot of teams interested in giving you a boatload of young talent in exchange for this pitcher, but you want to win in 2014, and most of the players being offered in return are better future pieces than present pieces.

What if Andrew Friedman could, in lieu of trading David Price, make him a free agent two years early in exchange for a sizeable “release fee”? Price would certainly welcome the chance to negotiate a new long term contract with every interested team immediately, rather than only being able to talk to the team who trades for his rights. Big market clubs flush with cash but light on the kind of talent that the Rays are demanding would get involved, and the demand for Price would likely increase, potentially creating a system where the Rays get more of a return in monetary value for their ace than they could by trading him for players under team control.

Back in November, Theo Epstein was quoted as saying:

“We wish there was a free-agent market for young players.”

In talking about a potential pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka, Jed Hoyer told ESPN Chicago:

“It’s rare these days,” Hoyer said in November. “They (Japanese players) get posted at an age that is younger than the typical American free agent.”

The Cubs aren’t interested in parting with their best young prospects, so they’re an unlikely landing spot for David Price this winter. However, if the Rays could post David Price, they might well be the favorites, and their interest in Price would be good for the Rays. Would the Cubs, or another deep pocketed team that prefers to hoard its young talent, pay the Rays $50 million in cash, payable right now, if they could sign David Price for 6/$125M? I think it’s at least possible, and it’s also possible that the Rays would be better off in the short term with $50 million in cash to reinvest in their 2014 roster than they would be with a collection of prospects.

One of the trends we’ve seen in baseball over the last few years is long term contracts for players several years from free agency, as teams are more anxious to lock up the best years of a player’s career rather than wait for them to reach free agency and then pay for a short peak period and a long decline phase. Because of this trend, you don’t have that many guys reaching free agency in their 20s anymore. This year, Jarrod Saltlamacchia was the youngest notable free agent, and he’s heading into his age-29 season as a catcher. Pretty much every other free agent was already in their 30s, or will be by next summer. People talk about this as a weak free agent class, but really, it’s an old free agent class.

If MLB allowed teams to post their young players, creating a free agent market for players still in their mid-20s, demand would be intense. I think it’s fair to say that the demand for posted young players would far outstrip demand for aging free agents, as we’ve seen that Masahiro Tanaka’s questionable availability has essentially brought the free agent market for starting pitching to a halt. Teams prefer Tanaka not only because he’s probably better than the best available free agent starters, but because he’s five years younger than them too.

Maybe the Rays would rather have the young players than the cash. I don’t think a domestic system would have to replace player-for-player trades, but could perhaps be an alternative option. Perhaps a team could explore the trade market for a player, and then, if they can’t find a suitable trade that brings them the kind of talent they’re looking for, could simply post him instead, and let the market tell them exactly what kind of value the player has. Even just having the leverage to go that direction could potentially raise the price of talent a team could extract when trading a star level player.

There would definitely be some logistical hurdles that would have to be cleared, and it would only make sense for MLB teams if the maximum release fee either did not apply or was significantly higher than the release fee that was negotiated with NPB teams. Certainly, MLB shouldn’t want teams simply auctioning off their best players without reinvesting that cash into their franchise, so there would have to be mechanisms in place to prevent owners from simply using a domestic posting process to profit from selling off their best players and putting terrible teams on the field.

But, this is basically how players change teams in soccer, with large cash payments going from one team to another. Buying players with cash is widely accepted as the primary way of improving a team’s roster in the world’s most popular sport. Now, MLB has essentially adopted a system that creates a free agent market for young talent from Japan. Perhaps this is just the first step towards creating a similar system for players already in the United States.
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2014 Top 10 Prospects: New York Mets.
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The New York Mets boast an underrated system that has both impressive arms and intriguing hitters. Quite a few of the prospects should be ready to contribute at the big league level within the next two seasons.

#1 Noah Syndergaard | 65/AA (P)
20 23 23 117.2 107 11 10.17 2.14 3.06 2.89
The Year in Review: The key to the late 2012 trade that sent former Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto, Syndergaard’s timetable was accelerated in 2013 and his split the season between High-A and Double-A. In total, he struck out 133 batters in 117.2 innings and walked just 28. His increased fly-ball rate in 2013 caught up to him at the Double-A level when his home run rate jumped significantly from 0.42 to 1.33 HR/9.

The Scouting Report: Syndergaard’s most talked about attribute is his mid-to-upper-90s fastball but he also has above-average control for a 21-year-old with less than four years of professional experience. The right-hander pairs his heater with an above-average changeup that flashes plus potential and his breaking ball has improved enough to place a future average grade on it. Standing 6’6”, the Texas native needs to do a better job of leveraging his height to his advantage and pounding the lower half of the strike zone.

The Year Ahead: Because he’s so young, and didn’t turn 21 until the end of August, Syndergaard could head back to the Double-A level where he made 11 starts last season. He should reach Triple-A before the end of June and could be pitching in the Majors by the end of August.

The Career Outlook: The lack of a consistent breaking ball is holding back Syndergaard from being projected as a future No. 1 starter. Nonetheless, in his prime he could be a dominating No. 2 starter capable of providing a plethora of innings.

#2 Travis d’Arnaud | 60/MLB (C)
24 112 10.7 % 18.8 % .202 .286 .263 .254 60 -4.8 0.1 -0.1
The Year in Review: Another piece of the loot that the Mets scored in the R.A. Dickey trade, d’Arnaud looked poised to take over the starting catcher’s gig at the big league level before the beginning of the summer but a broken foot put the end to that dream. He finally made The Show in mid-August but struggled in 31 games. He hit just .202 with four extra base hits and struck out 21 times.

The Scouting Report: Despite his struggles in 2013, d’Arnaud projects to develop into an above average hitting catcher and could provide 15-20 home runs in a full season’s worth of work. He showed some signs of curbing his aggressive nature at the plate but he’s gotten himself into trouble in the past by swinging at too many pitcher’s pitches. Perhaps the biggest concern with d’Arnaud is the litany of injuries that he’s already sustained in his seven-year career.

The Year Ahead: As it stands, d’Arnaud is being handed the undisputed role of starting catcher for the Mets and he’ll be backed up by either defensive whiz Juan Centeno or sophomore journeyman Anthony Recker. Either way, the Mets could have a very inexperienced tandem in 2014.

The Career Outlook: The young catcher has all-star potential but he’s got to stay healthy and behind the plate long enough to realize his full potential.

#3 Dominic Smith | 60/R (1B)
18 206 52 13 3 26 37 2 .301 .398 .439 .390
The Year in Review: Drafted 11th overall out of high school in 2013, Smith entered pro ball and was rarely fazed. He produced a .384 on-base percentage while displaying flashes of his power potential. He also impressed with his defensive work. After 48 games in the Gulf Coast League, he earned a late promotion to the advanced-rookie Appalachian League where he appeared in three games.

The Scouting Report: Smith was even more advanced at the plate than expected. He should hit for average and power while also getting on-base at a healthy clip. His power is generated by quick bat speed and he doesn’t have to pull the ball to hit it out of the park. Like many young hitters, he has work to do against same-handed pitchers. At first base, he could develop into on of the best fielder in the game at his position thanks to his athleticism around the bag and soft hands.

The Year Ahead: Smith is advanced and mature enough to handle a jump to full-season ball in his first full pro season. He could move fairly quickly for such a young player and could reach the Majors in late 2016.

The Career Outlook: Smith has a chance to be an impact player both as a middle-of-the-order hitter and as a defensive whiz at first base.

#4 Amed Rosario | 60/R (SS)
17 226 51 8 3 11 43 2 .241 .279 .358 .295
The Year in Review: One of the most exciting prospects in the Appalachian League based on his raw tools, Rosario showed his inexperience at the plate with a .637 OPS and 43 strikeouts in 58 games. The right-handed hitter struggled mightily against southpaws — likely due to the lack of experience — but he made noticeable improvements in each of the three months he played in 2013.

The Scouting Report: You wouldn’t know it to look at his numbers but Rosario has average or better tools across the board and projects to develop into an above-average hitter both in terms of batting average and power. He also has above-average speed but needs to improve his reads and jumps. Defensively, he has a strong arm, good range and soft hands so he should stick at the position long term.

The Year Ahead: Rosario turned 18 in November and still has a lot of polish to add to his offensive game so he’ll likely open the 2014 season in extended spring training before moving up to either the New York Penn League or South Atlantic League in June. He’s at least four seasons away from reaching the Majors.

The Career Outlook: The shortstop position in New York is a bit of a black hole right now and Rosario might end up being the answer to the problem but i’s going to be a while before he punches his ticket to Citi Field.

#5 Rafael Montero | 55/AAA (P)
22 27 27 155.1 136 6 8.69 2.03 2.78 2.45
The Year in Review: Montero, 23, split the 2013 season between Double-A and Triple-A. He compiled a total of 156 innings — despite concerns over his modest frame — and struck out 150 batters. He walked 35 batters and allowed just six home runs.

The Scouting Report: Montero is a rare Latin prospect who has a high ceiling despite being a late bloomer and not signing until he was 20 years old. His strengths as a pitcher are his above-average command and control, which help all three of his pitches play up. He possesses a low-90s fastball, slider and changeup. He needs to stay on top of his pitches more and try to create more of a downward plane.

The Year Ahead: The young pitcher will challenge for the fourth or fifth starter’s role on the 2014 Mets but a slow spring could see him return to Triple-A for some more seasoning.

The Career Outlook: Montero cannot challenge the ceilings of Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard but he has the potential to develop into a solid mid-rotation starter.

#6 Kevin Plawecki | 55/A+ (C)
22 521 137 38 8 42 53 1 .305 .390 .448 .387
The Year in Review: The 35th overall selection out of Purdue University during the 2012 amateur draft, Plawecki had a breakout season in 2013 and performed well in both levels of A-ball. He slugged 47 extra base hits and struck out just 53 times in 125 games.

The Scouting Report: Plawecki is a strong-bodied catcher who should be capable of playing a ton of games behind the plate and his durability could eventually make the more frail Travis d’Arnaud expendable. If he learns to generate a little more loft with his swing, some of the Indiana native’s doubles could turn into home runs. Plawecki does a nice job of making contact and has a good eye at the plate so he could continue to hit for a solid average as he moves up the organizational ladder.

The Year Ahead: Plawecki will move up to Double-A in 2014 and will look to quiet the critics who doubt his ability to stick behind the plate due to a modest arm and blocking skills. Don’t be shocked if he reaches the Majors by mid-2015.

The Career Outlook: Plawecki has a good chance to settle in as a fringe-average defender who sticks behind the plate for a while on the basis of his above-average bat. He may eventually spend more time at first base but his power needs to develop further for him to truly be asset there.

#7 Jake DeGrom | 55/AAA (P)
25 26 26 147.2 168 11 7.31 2.80 4.51 3.56
The Year in Review: A former ninth round draft pick out of Stetson University, DeGrom has made incredible progress since missing all of 2011 due to elbow surgery. He played at three levels in 2013 and finished the year in Triple-A. In total, he provided more than 147 innings of work.

The Scouting Report: DeGrom gave up a lot of hits in 2013 because he’s around the strike zone a lot but lacks command at times. He also needs to solidify an out pitch to pair with his low-to-mid-90s heater as his changeup shows potential but his curveball lacks consistency. He’s been durable since returning from Tommy John surgery and his athleticism should help him provide a lot of innings.

The Year Ahead: The Florida native will return to Triple-A to open the 2014 season but is just a phone call away if someone struggles in the bottom half of the Mets’ starting rotation.

The Career Outlook: DeGrom, 25, has the ceiling of a No. 3 or 4 starter, especially if he improves his breaking ball.

#8 Steve Matz | 55/A- (P)
22 21 21 106.1 86 4 10.24 3.22 2.62 2.63
The Year in Review: Matz, 22, finally had the year the Mets were waiting for when he made 21 starts and broke the 100-inning threshold. The Tommy John survivor overpowered hitters with 121 strikeouts in 106.1 innings while allowing just four home runs. His control slipped a bit late in the year, which is not surprising considering it was his first full pro season in four years.

The Scouting Report: Matz has very good stuff from the left side. His fastball ranges from 89-94 mph but can occasionally touches the mid-90s. He flashes a solid changeup and has made strides with his curveball. His command and control both need polish but they’re not as bad as you might expect considering he made just six appearances between 2010 and 2012. Matz does a nice job of staying on top of the ball and induces a lot of ground balls to complement his high strikeout rate.

The Year Ahead: The New York native will look to stay healthy for a second straight season when he moves up to High-A ball for 2014. Now 22, the organization may try and push him for Double-A in the second half of the season.

The Career Outlook: If he can avoid the doctor going forward, Matz has the makings of a solid No. 3 starter of high-leverage reliever. If all goes well, he could reach the Majors in late 2015.

#9 Gavin Cecchini | 50/SS (SS)
19 212 53 8 0 14 30 2 .273 .319 .314 .303
The Year in Review: The 19-year-old Cecchini was assigned to a short-season club for a second straight season after beginning the year in extended spring training. He managed just eight extra base hits in 51 games but showed improvements at the plate while performing very well in the field.

The Scouting Report: The brother of fellow Top 10 prospect Garin Cecchini (Red Sox), Gavin will reach the Majors on the basis of his defensive skills. He’s a steady and reliable, but unspectacular, defender with good arm strength, above-average actions and solid range for the position. At the plate. the Louisiana native shows 30 grade power and will never hit a ton of extra base hits. He’s fairly aggressive at the plate so he doesn’t walk much either, which will likely result in a low on-base percentage. He could end up hitting in front of the pitcher a lot.

The Year Ahead: Cecchini, who turns 20 in December, should get his first taste of full-season ball in 2014 when he moves up to the South Atlantic League. He’ll look to continue to get stronger with an eye on reaching the Majors by the end of 2016 or some time in 2017.

The Career Outlook: Cecchini has a chance to develop into a solid big league shortstop who hits near the bottom of the batting order. It doesn’t sound sexy but a lot of clubs would be thrilled to trot out a reliable defender with a (potentially) fringe-average bat at the key infield position.

#10 Wilmer Flores | 50/MLB (3B)
21 101 5.0 % 22.8 % .211 .248 .295 .241 51 -5.9 1.4 -0.2
The Year in Review: Flores’ arrival in the Majors had been highly anticipated since he signed out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old back in 2007. He finally reached The Show in 2013 as a 21-year-old but struggled with a .542 OPS and 23 strikeouts in 27 games. That came on the heels of his best minor league season when he posted an .887 OPS with 55 extra base hits in 107 games at the Triple-A level. Flores spent much of the year in the minors at second base but saw most of his big league action at third base.

The Scouting Report: Formerly a shortstop, Flores now mans the hot corner and could eventually make his way across the diamond to first base due to his large frame and decreasing range. As mentioned, he spent time at second base in the minors but lacks the fluidity to remain there long term. At the plate, he’s an aggressive hitter who has never walked more than 38 times in a full season but he also puts a lot of wood on the ball and doesn’t strike out much — especially for a player with impressive raw power. Flores has started to tap into his power reserve outside of batting practice but he’s currently providing more gap pop than over-the-fence heroics.

The Year Ahead: David Wright is a significant roadblock to playing time at the hot corner in New York. First base could be the easiest route to playing time for Flores but he’ll have to push his way past both Ike Davis and Lucas Duda. More than likely, the young Venezuelan will spend the majority of 2014 back at the Triple-A level, barring a significant injury.

The Career Outlook: Ceiling projections have been tempered for Flores, who was originally heralded as a future perennial all-star. He could be a solid big league third baseman once he puts a few more balls over the fence but if he moves across the diamond he could end up as more of a fringe-average to average first baseman. There’s also a chance to he turns into an offensive-minded utility player capable of playing first, second and third base.

The Next Five:

11. Dilson Herrera: The Pirates have had a lot of success with scouting and signing international free agents in recent years and that could significantly benefit the Mets if Herrera reaches his ceiling. The teenaged second baseman came over to the organization last season (along with No. 15 ranked Vic Black) in the Marlon Byrd swap. Herrera has a chance to develop into an above-average hitting middle infielder with more pop than you’d expect from his modest frame. He’s still a long-term project, though, and is about three years away from reaching the Majors.

12. Michael Fulmer, RHP: Fulmer missed most of 2013 with knee problems but, when healthy, he’s one of the best arms in the system. The right-hander backs up his above-average heater with two other pitches that project to be average or better: a slider and a changeup. The 20-year-old prospect has a big, strong frame and could eventually develop into an innings-eating No. 3 starter if his knee rebounds.

13. Domingo Tapia, RHP: The right-hander can reach triple digits with his heater and backs it up with an average or better breaking ball. However, Tapia doesn’t repeat his delivery, which significantly hampered both his command and control in 2013. He utilizes his 6’4” height to create a downward plane on his heater, which induces a lot of ground-ball outs. Almost exclusively a starter in the minors, the 22-year-old’s big league role will likely be a high-leverage reliever.

14. Brandon Nimmo, OF: Raw even for high school standards when he was drafted, Nimmo continues to be a long-term project. He’s unusually patient for such an unfinished and inexperienced prospect but the 20-year-old showed his poor pitch recognition by striking out 131 times. At 6’3” 185 lbs, he has a lot of raw left-handed power to tap into but he went deep just twice (with a total of 24 extra base hits) in 395 at-bats in 2013 and is still learning to drive the ball with authority.

15. Vic Black, RHP: Acquired in the same deal that netted the organization Dilson Herrera, Black is an intriguing relief prospect because of his power fastball and ability to overpower hitters when everything is clicking. It remains to be seen, though, if he can command his fastball and throw enough strikes to left-handed hitters to be trusted with ninth-inning duties. He could earn a spot in the Mets’ opening day bullpen with a strong spring showing.

2014 Top 10 Prospects: Minnesota Twins.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Twins may have the best minor league system in baseball thanks to its impact talent at the top and depth throughout. Both Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano could arguably be the best player in the minors at their respective positions. It’s extremely impressive how the organization has been able to acquire high-ceiling talent through a variety of means: the amateur draft, the international free agency and the trade market.

#1 Byron Buxton | 70/A+ (OF)
19 633 174 20 15 81 120 57 .322 .411 .509 .417
The Year in Review: To say 2013 was a huge year for Buxton would be an understatement. He went from being widely considered one of the Top 3 prospects in the Twins system to one of the Top 3 prospects in all of baseball. Just 19 during the regular season, the athletic outfielder played at two A-ball levels and posted a .944 OPS with a .334 batting average. He also stole 55 bases in 74 attempts. Buxton ended his year with 12 games in the Arizona Fall League but was noticeably worn down.

The Scouting Report: Buxton is a player that can do it all in terms of the five-tool spectrum. He can hit for average, he flashes raw power potential, he has the speed to steal 50-60 bases, he has a very strong arm and he plays outstanding center-field defence. There aren’t too many things he needs to work on other than gaining experience against better pitching and continuing to trust himself and stay within himself.

The Year Ahead: Buxton will almost certainly open the 2014 season in Double-A. He has a shot at reaching the Majors in the second half of the season. Future fourth outfielders Alex Presley and Darin Mastroianni will keep the position warm for the stud prospect.

The Career Outlook: Buxton, who turns 20 in a few days, has all the makings of a perennial all-star and should be the heart of the Twins team for years to come. The organization is positioning itself to be a true powerhouse in the American League Central.

#2 Miguel Sano | 65/AA (3B)
20 519 123 30 35 65 142 11 .280 .382 .610 .435
The Year in Review: How do you follow up on a season where you hit 28 home runs as a 19 year old? You hit 35 dingers at the age of 20. Sano, a Dominican native, split 2013 between High-A and Double-A and definitely faced a stiffer challenge at the higher level. After posting a 1.079 OPS with a .330 batting average in High-A, the third baseman managed a .915 OPS but hit just .236 in Double-A. The main culprits behind his struggles were the increase in strikeouts (25% to almost 30%) and the dip in his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) from .397 to .265.

The Scouting Report: Sano has perhaps the most potent power potential in the minors with his tool grade coming in at 75-80. In typical slugger fashion he also walks a lot but swings and misses with regularity. Because of those whiffs, he’ll probably never hit for a great batting average but could sit somewhere in the .250-.270 range, which should still allow him to produce strong on-base percentages. Defensively, his bat and plus-plus arm give enough reason for him to remain at the hot corner but his range is likely to diminish as he ages and his actions are stiff.

The Year Ahead: Sano struggled with Double-A pitching in 67 games but a strong spring could push him to Triple-A, one step away from The Show. Trevor Plouffe’s days as a starting big league third baseman could be over in a Plou?ffe of smoke before the summer is over. One wrinkle to that plan, though, could be a lingering elbow injury. Some unsubstantiated rumors have suggested Tommy John surgery could be a possibility, which would cause him to miss a large chunk of the season.

The Career Outlook: There are some questions about Sano’s true age (and understandably so, if you’ve seen him) but even if he’s closer to 24 or 25 he should have a strong future as a middle-of-the-order slugger. He could threaten the 40-home run plateau in the Majors during his prime.

#3 Alex Meyer | 65/AA (P)
23 23 23 104.1 87 6 11.04 3.36 3.02 2.82
The Year in Review: Meyer made just 13 starts in Double-A (with three rehab appearance in rookie ball) due to a shoulder injury but bounced back well to throw another 26 innings in the Arizona Fall League to give him more than 100 innings thrown on the year. Along with racking up the strikeouts, the right-hander also induced ground ball outs at a tremendous rate.

The Scouting Report: A contact within the Twins organization told me that Meyer may very well have both the best fastball and curveball in the organization. He has a mid-to-high-90s fastball with movement and his curveball is a true swing-and-miss offering. His height allows him to create a significant downward plane on the ball that makes it nearly impossible to lift when his command is on. The big concern with the 6’9” monster is keeping him healthy and on the mound.

The Year Ahead: The strong showing in the AFL could convince the organization to assign the University of Kentucky alum to Triple-A to open the year. The club should have Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Meyer all ready for the Majors right around the same time.

The Career Outlook: Meyer just continues to get better and the Washington Nationals are no doubt second-guessing their decision to include him in the Denard Span deal from a year ago. If his shoulder holds up he could become a No. 1 or 2 starter in the Twins rotation and has a significantly higher ceiling than anyone currently found on the big league staff.

#4 Kohl Stewart | 60/R (P)
18 7 4 20.0 13 0 10.80 1.80 1.35 1.70
The Year in Review: The fourth overall selection in the 2013 draft, Stewart looked like a stud in his brief debut. The right-hander rolled through the rookie Gulf Coast League and earned a late-season promotion to the advanced-rookie Appalachian League. In total, he allowed just 13 hits and four walks while whiffing 24 in 20 innings of work.

The Scouting Report: The first two things that stand out with this Texas native are his athleticism and competitive nature. It helps him repeat his pitching mechanics and it also allows him to serve as an extra quality fielder. His repertoire includes a low-to-mid-90s fastball with excellent movement (although he needs to sharpen his command of the offering), potentially-plus slider, curveball and changeup. He’s learning to consistently get on top of the ball and create a good downward plane to work consistently in the lower half of the zone.

The Year Ahead: Stewart should open the 2014 season in full-season ball even though he just turn 19 in October. The organization is usually fairly reserved with its young arms so expect him to spend the entire year in the Midwest League. He’ll likely reach the Majors sometime in 2016.

The Career Outlook: Stewart has just 20 innings of professional experience but his athleticism and makeup should help him squeeze every ounce out of his impressive tools, which could eventually help him develop into a No. 1 or 2 starter. He could easily be among the 15 or 20 best prospects in baseball by this time next year.

#5 Eddie Rosario | 60/AA (2B/OF)
21 628 169 33 10 41 109 12 .293 .338 .434 .349
The Year in Review: Rosario split the 2013 season between High-A and Double-A. The 22-year-old Puerto Rico native hit significantly better in High-A than Double-A but he didn’t exactly embarrass himself at the higher level. Rosario also spent the off-season playing in both the Arizona Fall League and the Puerto Rico Winter League but didn’t perform overly well at either stop.

The Scouting Report: Rosario is a strong hitter and should produce a solid batting average at the big league level. His aggressive approach at the plate hinders his ability to get on base at a solid clip. Strong wrists and forearms, as well as significant bat speed allows him to flash above-average, left-handed power although it’s mostly gap pop at this point. Defensively, Rosario has strides to be made at both second base and in the outfield so some stability would certainly help. His offensive profile would fit better at the keystone than a corner outfield spot.

The Year Ahead: Rosario will reportedly sit out the first 50 games of the 2014 season after being nabbed for using a banned substance. There has also been talk of him being moved back to the outfield after spending the last two seasons at second base. Once his season begins, he could return to Double-A to help shake off the rust (assuming he sits for 50 games as reported) before moving up to Triple-A.

The Career Outlook: It remains to be seen where Rosario will eventually settle in defensively. Brian Dozier has been a league-average player at the position so he’s not a huge roadblock but there appears to be a more glaring need in left or right field with Byron Buxton and Oswaldo Arica possibly filling the other two-thirds of the outfield. He could be an all-star at second base but he’d be more fringe-average to average as a corner outfielder.

#6 Jose Berrios | 60/A- (P)
19 19 19 103.2 105 6 8.68 3.47 3.99 3.44
The Year in Review: I ranked Berrios at eighth a year ago and he put forth another strong performance in 2013 to move up to the sixth slot despite the significant depth in the system. A native out of Puerto Rico like Eddie Rosario, Berrios made just 19 starts in his first full season but held his own in the Midwest League. He also managed to surpass the century mark in both innings pitched and strikeouts.

The Scouting Report: Berrios’s best pitch is his fastball, which he can dial up into the mid-90s with good movement. He doesn’t always stay on top of the ball and he gets in trouble when the ball is elevated. Both his breaking ball and changeup have the chance to be average or better offerings. Because he was around the strike zone a fair bit — but with so-so command — he allowed a lot of hits in 2013.

The Year Ahead: Berrios will move up to High-A ball and he’ll likely continue to be one of the more underrated prospects in both the Twins system and the game in general. He has a shot at reaching the Majors in 2015 but will more likely be ready for The Show in 2016.

The Career Outlook: Berrios has the makings of developing into a No. 3 starter — possibly a No. 2 if one of his secondary pitches really takes off — or he could make his way to the back-end of the bullpen. He’s a fun lottery ticket to follow in the Twins system.

#7 Max Kepler | 55/A- (OF)
20 335 71 16 9 31 56 2 .237 .310 .400 .327
The Year in Review: Kepler opened the 2013 season in extended spring training after an elbow strain nixed the plan to have him begin the year in full-season ball but he was assigned to the Midwest League in June. The 20-year-old native of Germany showed impressive left-handed power even though he failed to hit for average and his on-base percentage was a dismal .312. After the season, he was assigned to the Arizona Fall League — even though most player assignments typically come from the Double-A and Triple-A ranks.

The Scouting Report: Kepler is learning to tap into his raw left-handed pop, which can send balls over the fence to all fields. He’s also gaining much-needed experience at the plate in an effort to improve his pitch recognition and the consistency of his mechanics. Kepler is a good athlete for his size and has a fluid swing. The young hitter is honing his skills in the outfield but his modest arm could eventually convince the organization to shift him to first base,

The Year Ahead: Kepler should officially play a full season in 2014 when he’s assigned to the Hight-A Florida State League. He’s probably not bound for the Majors until late 2016 at the earliest.

The Career Outlook: Kepler has some work to do against left-handing pitching if he’s going to avoid a future platoon gig and realize his full potential. If everything clicks, the European-born player has the tools to be a star with plus power production from the middle of a big league lineup.

#8 Jorge Polanco | 55/A- (2B/SS)
19 523 143 32 5 42 59 4 .308 .362 .452 .368
The Year in Review: Polanco spent three seasons in short-season ball but it appears to have been time well spent. He was outstanding in his first taste of full-season ball, showing the ability to hit for average with improved pop and limited swing-and-misses. He also showed the ability to handle both middle infield positions. He received a lot of playing time in the Dominican Winter League — especially for such a young, inexperienced player — and made the most of his opportunity with a .326 batting average and .825 OPS.

The Scouting Report: The Twins have a pair of intriguing middle infield prospects in Polanco and Danny Santana. The former is a little bit more of a safer pick while the latter is a little more toolsy but also more raw. Polanco is a switch-hitter with solid pop from both sides of the plate and he has a good eye which allows him to produce solid on-base percentages and a good batting average. Defensively, he can play both shortstop and second base but he’ll likely spend more time at the latter position due to his modest range.

The Year Ahead: Polanco, 20, will move up to High-A ball in 2014 and, if all continues to go well, he could see significant time in Double-A before the year is out. He’s probably looking at settling into a big league role some time in 2016.

The Career Outlook: Polanco has a chance to develop into an offensive-minded second baseman at the big league level who’s also capable of handling a little shortstop when needed.

#9 Danny Santana | 50/AA (SS)
22 587 160 22 2 24 94 30 .297 .333 .386 .327
The Year in Review: Santana, 23, had a solid season in Double-A by hitting .297 with 160 hits in 131 games but he walked just 24 times and went down swinging 94 times. He was prolific on the base paths with 30 steals, although he was also nabbed 13 times. He had a strong showing in the Dominican Winter League against older competition.

The Scouting Report: Santana has hit for a solid average each of the past two seasons but his aggressive nature leads to low on-base percentages and high strikeout rates. He’ll likely never hit for power and will probably find himself in the eighth or ninth slot in a big league lineup despite his above-average speed. In the field, Santana has more than enough arm strength for shortstop but is inconsistent with the other areas of his defensive game. He’s also played some second base and dabbled in the outfield. The young infielder made a lot of errors early in the season but impressed the organization with the improvements he showed in the second half of the year.

The Year Ahead: Santana will move up to Triple-A and could be the Twins’ starting shortstop by the all-star break unless the organization brings in a more established veteran to play ahead of Pedro Florimon and Eduardo Escobar. He has some growing to do before he becomes a league-average, or better, hitter in the Majors.

The Career Outlook: If he can become a little more selective at the plate and a little more consistent in the field, Santana could be a league-average or better shortstop for the Twins.

#10 Josmil Pinto | C/50 (C)
24 83 7.2 % 26.5 % .342 .398 .566 .418 169 6.6 -0.8 0.9
The Year in Review: After being considered little more than organizational cannon fodder during his first seven pro seasons, Pinto caught the attention of prospect watchers with his hot hitting last season that resulted in a second straight season with an OPS of .844 or higher. He finished his minor league season with an on-base percentage of .400 thanks to 66 walks in 126 games. Pinto’s success continued with a strong 21-game MLB debut.

The Scouting Report: Pinto is a patient hitter but he also struggles with pitch recognition at times and with premium velocity. He produces above-average on-base rates, shows the ability to hit for average and also produces a healthy number of extra base hits. Behind the plate, Pinto is a solid receiver but he struggled with game calling at times during his MLB debut. He has good arm strength but his success at throwing out base runners has been inconsistent because of mechanical issues.

The Year Ahead: With the impending move of incumbent catcher Joe Mauer to first base, Pinto is the odds-on-favorite to see regular playing time behind the dish in 2014. In eight seasons, the Venezuela native has surpassed 100 games played just three times so he may not have the stamina to be a true everyday guy just yet.

The Career Outlook: Pinto has shown the ability to hit for average, get on base and drive the ball with surprising authority throughout his career. He should also be an average or better defender. As a result, the 24-year-old backstop has a chance to be a solid big league regular.

The Next Five:

Lewis Thorpe, LHP: Australian players tend to be more raw than the average North American amateur when they turn pro due to the lack of popularity of the sport down under. Thorpe, though, is an exception to the rule thanks to his above-average control and developing repertoire. The southpaw, who just recently turned 18, walked six batters in 44.0 innings while sending 64 batters back to the dugout shaking their heads. Thorpe has one of the most intriguing ceilings in the organization and it will be interesting to see how he builds on the success from his debut season. He came very close to making the Top 10 list but ultimately fell just outside of it because he’s a lot less proven than some of the other talent in this impressively-deep system.

Trevor May, RHP: Formerly one of the top prospects in the Phillies system, May’s value has decreased due to a lack of improvement with both his command and control, as well as conditioning concerns. What the right-hander has going for him is durability and a strong fastball, although he lacks consistency with it and it lacks movement at times. He also needs to do a better job of working consistently down in the zone. May, 24, may be best suited for the backend of a bullpen where he can focus on his power heater-slider combination.

Felix Jorge, RHP: The 19-year-old Dominican Republic native has the makings of three average-or-better offerings in his 89-93 mph fastball, curveball and changeup. His above-average control helps his stuff play up. There is a noticeable change in arm speed when the right-hander throws his secondary pitches so he has some adjustments to make, along with improved command. Jorge should move up to full season ball in 2014 and will look to make enough improvements to prove he can be a long-term starter.

Travis Harrison, 3B: The 50th overall selection during the 2012 amateur draft, Harrison produce respectable numbers in the full-season Midwest League in 2013 at the age of 20. He has all the makings of a strong offensive player, especially if he continues to tap into his raw power potential without becoming too pull conscious. He’ll probably never be more than fringe-average to average in the field but he should hit enough to justify his defensive position.

Stuart Turner, C: Fellow catching prospect Josmil Pinto saw his value increase significantly in 2013 and ’13 draftee Turner could see a similar spike in the coming season. The defensive whiz has excellent receiving skills and a strong arm. His offence is the biggest question but he could have value in the Majors even if he hits in the .220-.240 range with modest extra-base ability. Turner was drafted out of the University of Mississippi in the third round of the 2013 amateur draft.

2014 Top 10 Prospects: San Francisco Giants.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Despite their penchant for dealing prospects for veterans, the Giants have amassed an impressive group of young arms that ranges from potential frontline starter to back-end innings-eaters (and everything in between). What the organization lacks, though, is a potential impact bat.

#1 Kyle Crick | 65/A+ (P)
20 21 19 84.1 57 2 12.70 5.34 1.81 2.50
The Year in Review: The big, tall pitcher dominated the California League in 2013, at least when he was healthy. Crick made just 14 starts on the year due to an oblique strain. The injury didn’t stop him from striking out 95 batters or from limiting hitters to just 48 base-knocks in 68.2 innings of work. His control was off, though, and he walked 39 batters. He made up for the lost innings while on the disabled list by appearing in the Arizona Fall League. He added another 24 strikeouts in just 15.2 innings but also issued 11 free passes.

The Scouting Report: Crick is your prototypical hard-throwing Texan. His fastball resides in the mid-to-upper 90s and he complements it with a hard slider that has plus potential. Like most young pitchers, he needs to trust his changeup more. Crick’s command is still inconsistent, but that should improve as he learns to repeat his mechanics and becomes more of a pitcher.

The Year Ahead: Crick will almost certainly open 2014 in Double-A. He just recently turned 21 years old but the young hurler could reach the Majors before the end of the coming season.

The Career Outlook: Crick has the stuff, frame, and makeup to develop into a legitimate No. 1 starter at the big league level. All he needs to do is polish his control and avoid significant injuries.

#2 Edwin Escobar | 60/AA (P)
21 26 24 128.2 112 5 10.21 2.10 2.80 2.21
The Year in Review: It seemed like such an innocuous trade at the time. On April 1, 2010, the Texas Rangers were looking to secure the rights to Rule 5 draftee Ben Snyder, whom they had no spot for on the 25-man roster. In return for that honour, the Rangers agreed to part with Escobar who signed out of Venezuela for a six-figure bonus in 2008 but had just 13 games of professional experience at the time. Fast-forward four seasons and Escobar is the second-highest rated prospect in the Giants system after a year that saw him split his time between High-A and Double-A. In total, he struck out 146 batters in 128.2 innings and was taken deep just five times.

The Scouting Report: Escobar isn’t flashy but he gets results. The lefty has a three-pitch repertoire that could boast a trifecta of average or better pitches as he matures. His fastball velocity is average, or a tick above, at 88-92 mph. His second best offering is his curveball but the changeup also has its moments. Escobar shows above-average control but he needs to command his pitches on a more consistent basis. He’s averaged just under 130 innings pitched over the past two seasons.

The Year Ahead: If Escobar comes out with a strong spring training, he could receive an opening day assignment to Triple-A. More than likely, though, he’ll return to Double-A for a little more seasoning before moving up to either Triple-A or the Majors.

The Career Outlook: The southpaw starter has the makings of a durable, innings-eating No. 2 or 3 starter. Escobar continues to look like a steal for Snyder, who never did reach the Majors and last pitched in the minors in 2012. The talent evaluator who recommended the acquisition deserves a raise from the Giants.

#3 Adalberto Mejia | 55/A+ (P)
20 24 20 109.0 98 17 8.67 2.72 4.13 4.32
The Year in Review: Like top prospect Kyle Crick, Mejia’s 2013 season was interrupted by an oblique strain and he made just 17 starts and failed to crack the 100-inning plateau. The lefty spent most of the year in the High-A California League where he struck out 89 batters in 87.0 innings of work. He also received a spot start in Triple-A, which speaks to how highly regarded he is in the organization. Mejia, 20, also received an assignment to the Arizona Fall League where he was roughed up in 17.0 innings.

The Scouting Report: Mejia has above-average control for his age, which helps his slightly-above-average repertoire play up. The lefty’s fastball works in the 88-93 mph range and his second-best offering is a changeup. His slider should be average or better with further experience and polish. Mejia gets into trouble when he elevates his pitches and he gave up 13 home runs in 92.0 innings last season.

The Year Ahead: Despite his fall struggles, the talented lefty should find himself in the Double-A starting rotation in April. With Mejia, Crick, and Escobar all at the Double-A level or higher in 2014, the big league club will soon be flush with an abundance of young pitching talent.

The Career Outlook: Mejia has some polish to add before he reaches his ultimate ceiling but he should settle in to the Majors as a durable mid-rotation starter.

#4 Christian Arroyo | 55/R (SS)
18 209 60 18 2 19 32 3 .326 .388 .511 .411
The Year in Review: A number of talent evaluators felt Arroyo’s selection at 25th overall in the 2013 amateur draft was a reach. To that, though, the young shortstop said, “Stuff it,” by going out and performing as one of the best prospects in the rookie level Arizona League. The Florida native hit .326 with unexpected gap power (18 doubles, five triples) in 45 games.

The Scouting Report: Arroyo, 18, isn’t flashy and he doesn’t have an overabundance of plus tools, but he showed a knack for hitting in his pro debut. He doesn’t project to hit for much power and he’s not going to steal many bases so he’ll have to make friends by reaching base at a consistent clip. In the field, Arroyo quieted some concerns over his ability to play shortstop in pro ball, although he may eventually transition over to second base in deference to a stronger, flashier defender.

The Year Ahead: You have to go all the way back to 1998 to find the last time the Giants took a prep bat (Tony Torcato) with their first selection in an amateur draft. Arroyo’s strong debut could convince the Giants to push him aggressively up to Low-A ball to begin 2014 but something tells me he may be headed for extended spring training and another short-season assignment come June.

The Career Outlook: Arroyo currently looks like a future solid, but unspectacular, middle infielder at the MLB level. With that said, he’s not likely to challenge for a big league assignment for another four years or so.

#5 Martin Agosta | 55/A- (P)
22 18 18 91.2 57 4 10.70 4.22 2.06 3.03
The Year in Review: Agosta got off to a strong start in his first full pro season but he pitched just 37.0 innings after the end of May due to blisters and arm problems. Despite the rough second half, the 2012 second round draft pick left a strong impression with 109 strikeouts and a 2.06 ERA in 91.2 innings of work.

The Scouting Report: The right-hander has experienced a fair amount of success in the starting rotation but he projects as a reliever in the Majors, unless he can improve his secondary offerings. Agosta’s fastball works in the 90-93 mph range and he also throws a cutter and a slider. Both offerings could develop into average pitches.

The Year Ahead: If healthy, Agosta should open the 2014 in the California League where he’ll look to break the 100-inning mark and build upon the strong foundation that was laid back in April and May of 2013.

The Career Outlook: Agosta has just slightly more than 100 innings of professional experience so projecting his future at this point includes a fair amount of educated guess work. He has the ceiling of a No. 3 or 4 starter but might also succeed as a high-leverage reliever.

#6 Mac Williamson | 55/A+ (OF)
22 597 152 31 25 51 132 10 .292 .375 .504 .383
The Year in Review: Williamson, 23, enjoyed his time in the California League. He wasn’t exactly young for the league but he impressed the organization when he slugged 25 home runs. He also produced a .375 on-base percentage thanks to an unexpectedly-high batting average. On the downside, he struck out 132 times in 136 games.

The Scouting Report: Williamson’s carrying tool is his plus power. His hit tool projects as average-at-best because of his swing-and-miss tendencies. He could end up offering 20+ home run pop with a .240 to 250 batting average but his decent walk rate helps him compensate a bit for his shortcomings. In the field, he has the potential to be an average right-fielder with an above-average arm.

The Year Ahead: Williamson will face a stiffer test when he opens 2014 in Double-A, a more age-appropriate league for him. There is no disputing his pop but the powerful outfielder needs to work on improving his pitch recognition. Look for the North Carolina native to make his MLB debut at some point in 2015.

The Career Outlook: The Wake Forest alum probably won’t ever be a star but he could be a value big leaguer because of his powerful arm and potent right-handed pop.

#7 Joan Gregorio | 55/A- (P)
21 14 13 69.2 65 3 10.85 2.20 4.00 2.17
The Year in Review: Gregorio battled injuries in 2013: first an oblique strain and later blister problems on his throwing hand. When he was healthy and on the mound, the right-hander was around the strike zone a lot but his lack of command in the strike zone led to a significant number of hits allowed. On the plus side, he walked just 17 and struck out 84 batters.

The Scouting Report: Signed in early 2010, Gregorio has been slow to develop and he’s never pitched in more than 76.1 innings in a season after managing just 69.2 frames in 2013 thanks to an injury. The right-hander towers over his competitors at 6’7” but his heater ranges in the 88-92 mph range with above-average movement but he’s still projectable and could have more velocity to tap in to. His slider has above-average potential but the changeup has a ways to go. Gregorio also has above-average control for his age.

The Year Ahead: Entering his fifth pro season, Gregorio will look to prove his durability as he moves up to High-A ball. He’ll likely spend the entire year at that level while attempting to surpass 100 innings pitched for the first time.

The Career Outlook: Gregorio still has a lot to prove but he has the raw ability necessary to develop into a No. 3 or 4 starter. He could also eventually find his way to the bullpen where he could focus on his fastball-slider combination.

#8 Clayton Blackburn | 50/A+ (P)
20 23 23 133.0 111 12 9.34 2.37 3.65 3.29
The Year in Review: Just 20, Blackburn moved up to High-A ball in 2013 and produced solid results despite playing in a league that significantly favors hitters. The right-hander walked just 38 batters while striking out 138 in 133.0 innings. He made some adjustments in the first half of the season and had a strong finish to the year.

The Scouting Report: Blackburn has a strong frame and projects to develop into a No. 4 pitcher capable of providing 200+ innings. He succeeds with average stuff by pounding the lower half of the strike zone and shows the potential to command three or four pitches, including an 87-93 mph fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. His best offerings right now are his fastball and curveball.

The Year Ahead: Blackburn will move up to Double-A in 2014 and should spend the entire season at that level. He doesn’t need to be added to the 40-man roster (to protect him from the Rule 5 draft) until after the 2015 season so the organization can afford to be patient with him while he polishes his repertoire. Expect to see his strikeout rate to dip noticeably as he faces more mature hitters that are used to pitches being able to command the ball more consistently.

The Career Outlook: The California native has a solid chance to develop into a solid, but unspectacular, back-of-the-rotation starter who should chew up plenty of innings for the Giants. Double-A will be a strong test for him.

#9 Heath Hembree | 50/MLB (P)
24 7.2 14.09 2.35 53.3 % 0.00 0.70 1.59 0.3 0.2
The Year in Review: Hembree returned to Triple-A for a second straight season in 2013 and produced respectable results. He was rewarded with his first taste of big league action and did not allow a run while striking out 12 batters in 7.2 innings.

The Scouting Report: Hembree has the kind of makeup and mound presence that allows him to get the most out of his abilities. It also hints at his potential to develop into a high-leverage reliever at the big league level. In the past, Hembree threw more consistently in the 94-95 mph range but he sat in the 91-93 mph range during his debut in The Show. He has above-average control thanks to his simple, repeatable delivery but he needs to improve the command of both his fastball and his slider. He also falls in love with his breaking ball a little too much at times.

The Year Ahead: Hembree has nothing left to prove in the minors, although he has all three minor league options remaining. As it stands right now, the right-hander should have a good shot at breaking camp with the Giants but a lot can change between now and April. He’ll likely start out in a middle relief role.

The Career Outlook: The South Carolina native has both the skill and the makeup to develop into a high-leverage reliever for the Giants, either as a closer or a very good set-up man.

#10 Chris Stratton | 50/A- (P)
22 22 22 132.0 128 5 8.39 3.20 3.27 2.97
The Year in Review: Despite going 20th overall in the 2012 amateur draft, the college product spent the entire 2013 season in Low-A ball at the age of 22 (now 23). He was old for the league and he produced solid results but his raw stuff failed to impress.

The Scouting Report: Stratton displayed three average offerings in 2013 with his fastball, slider and changeup. He displayed OK control but his command in the strike zone fluctuated and his stuff was often flat. The Mississippi native had a habit of hanging his breaking ball and needs to finish it off more consistently. He has an strong, athletic frame and fields his position well. He could end up as a respectable No. 4 starter in the Majors.

The Year Ahead: Stratton will look to rediscover the stuff that made him a highly-ranked amateur prospect just two years ago. If he produces, he could split the year between High-A and Double-A.

The Career Outlook: A former first round draft pick, Stratton hasn’t developed as hoped and he has a considerably lower ceiling than expected when he was selected out of Mississippi State University in 2012. He should pitch in the big leagues but it will be in the middle to back end of the rotation rather than at the front.

The Next Five:

Andrew Susac, C: Susac’s bat hasn’t been quite as good as advertised since signing as a second round pick in 2011 but he’s made significant strides behind the plate. The California native should provide at least average big league defense in his prime. His bat is another story but he’s been pushed aggressively through the system and began his first pro season in High-A ball. He played in Double-A in 2013. The right-handed hitter had a nice showing in the Arizona Fall League, which provides some hope that his offence is about to kick into high gear.

Gary Brown, OF: Brown has been a bit of a disappointment since going 24th overall in the 2010 amateur draft he has some tools that should allow him to be a useful big league contributor. The speedy outfielder plays an above-average centre field with solid arm strength and plus speed. Unfortunately, his bat projects as fringe-average. Despite having four years of pro experience under his belt, Brown has a lot of work to do at the plate and needs to get on base on a more regular basis to take advantage of his stronger tool.

Keury Mella, RHP: The Dominican right-hander came stateside for his second pro season and was overpowering at times in the rookie Arizona League. He struck out 41 batters and induced a high number of ground-ball outs in 36.0 innings over 10 appearances (nine starts). Mella, 20, probably has a future as a hard-throwing reliever but the organization will no doubt give him every opportunity to succeed as a starter. He throws in the low-to-mid 90s with his heater and also shows a solid curveball.

Ty Blach, LHP: Blach had an eye-opening season while pitching in the offense-boosting California League (High-A). The southpaw utilized above-average control, strong pitching know-how, and an average four-pitch repertoire to post a 2.90 ERA in 22 appearances (20 starts). Blach’s fastball sits in the 89-91 mph range and his best secondary pitch is a plus changeup. He also throws both a curveball and a slider. He could settle into a big league rotation as a durable No. 4 starter capable of eating up 200+ innings a season.

Ryder Jones, 3B: Jones had an outstanding debut in rookie ball by hitting more than .300 and showing power potential from the left side of the plate. Already 6-2, 200 pounds, the teenager will have to watch his conditioning to stick at third base where he currently projects to develop into an average fielder (given more experience) with a strong arm. Like with first rounder Christian Arroyo, Giants scouts did an excellent job of identifying and taking talents that went higher in the draft than expected, potentially landing some steals.

2014 Top 10 Prospects: Toronto Blue Jays.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
This Top 10 (+5) list is the weakest collection of prospects that Toronto has had in the minors for quite a while now. Most of the talent is in A-ball or Rookie ball with a noticeable lack of depth at the upper levels, thanks to the 2012-13 trades that were supposed to turn the Jays into a winning club. On a positive note, there are quite a few players — including many who failed to make the list — that have the raw skills necessary to improve significantly in the coming year.

#1 Aaron Sanchez | 65/A+ (P)
20 28 26 109.2 74 4 7.88 4.19 2.87 3.51
The Year in Review: Sanchez, who didn’t turn 21 until July 1, made 22 appearances (20 starts) in High-A ball. He pitched just 86.1 innings after missing about a month with a shoulder injury. When he was on the mound and able to find the strike zone, he overpowered hitters with 75 strikeouts and a well-above-average ground-ball rate. Sanchez was assigned to the Arizona Fall League after the season to catch up on the innings he missed while on the sidelines. He allowed just 11 hits and struck out 21 in 23.1 innings but also walked 11.

The Scouting Report: Sanchez, a California native, has the best stuff in the Jays’ system. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and he backs it up with a plus curveball. He doesn’t use his changeup a ton but the right-hander throws it with deceptive arm speed and it flashes good fade. Tall and lean, Sanchez’s delivery was tweaked in 2013 and — as ESPN prospect evaluator Keith Law pointed out — the prospect now lands on a stiff front leg with little follow through. The delivery makes it more difficult for the young hurler to get the ball down in the lower half of the zone on a consistent basis.

The Year Ahead: The strong fall showing should allow Sanchez to open 2014 in Double-A. If he can add the necessary polish, Sanchez could reach the Majors by the end of the season. However, he probably isn’t ready to realize his ceiling and will likely struggle with his inconsistencies at the big league level. Toronto is in the market for established starting pitching and Sanchez is the organization’s best trading chip.

The Career Outlook: Sanchez has the makings of a No. 1 or 2 starter, if his command and control both improve. However, I have concerns over his ability to stay healthy in the long term, and he’s already had shoulder issues pop up.

#2 Marcus Stroman | 60/AA (P)
22 29 20 123.1 107 13 10.36 2.19 3.28 3.07
The Year in Review: Despite an inauspicious 42-game delay to the 2013 season from a failed drug test (He served the first eight games of the suspension at the end of ’12), Stroman made 20 Double-A starts and struck out 129 batters in 111.2 innings of work. He then made up for the lost development time by appearing in nine games in the Arizona Fall League where he added another 13 strikeouts and just three walks in 11.2 innings.

The Scouting Report: It’s fairly safe to assume that any scouting report you read about Stroman is going to start by mentioning his height. He stands just 5’9” and there are few, if any, starting pitchers that have succeeded over a long period of time in the big leagues. With that said, the Duke University alum has done a nice job of staying on top of the ball to date. He also displays solid athleticism on the mound and that helps him repeat his delivery. Stroman’s repertoire includes a low-to-mid-90s fastball, cutter, slider and changeup.

The Year Ahead: Stroman has an outside chance at winning a roster spot to begin the 2014 season but he doesn’t need to be on the 40-man roster yet and Toronto has quite a few players that are out of minor league options. He’ll likely open the year in Triple-A but could reach the Majors in the second half of the season, should the need arise.

The Career Outlook: Toronto is going to give Stroman every opportunity to succeed as a starter but it’s hard to envision him holding up to 200+ innings for an extended period of time. Former starter-turned-reliever Tom Gordon, who also stood about 5’9” and pitched parts of 21 seasons in the Majors, is perhaps a good comp for Stroman.

#3 Mitch Nay | 60/SS (3B)
19 258 69 11 6 25 35 0 .300 .364 .426 .368
The Year in Review: After failing to appear in a game in 2012 after turning pro, thanks to an injury suffered shortly after signing his contract, Nay was held back in extended spring training in 2013 before being assigned to the Advanced-Rookie Appalachian League. The young third baseman hit .300 while flashing some pop and striking out just 35 times in 64 games.

The Scouting Report: Nay, 20, has been more advanced at the plate than expected. He showed a strong understanding of the strike zone in 2013 while making improvements with his pitch recognition. He does a nice job of getting the barrel of the bat on the ball. He hit more than .300 and showed flashes of his above-average power potential. In the field, Nay shows above-average arm strength but his range may never be better than average and he needs to polish his actions.

The Year Ahead: Toronto has developed into a rather conservative club when it comes to player development and likes to have many of its prep draftees spend at least two seasons in short-season ball. Nay will likely move up to the Low-A Midwest League in 2014. He’ll most likely spend the full season at that level while looking to continue his development path at the plate and in the field.

The Career Outlook: Nay could eventually challenge Stroman for the title of best draftee from the Jays’ 2012 class despite being the fourth player selected by the organization. He’s not going to offer a ton of defensive value but his bat could turn out to be pretty special. The Arizona native could eventually settle into the middle of the Jays’ lineup, assuming he’s not used as trade bait while the front office takes a second stab at building a playoff-caliber club.

#4 Daniel Norris | 60/A+ (P)
20 24 23 90.2 85 6 9.93 4.57 3.97 3.51
The Year in Review: It was a tale of two halves for Norris in 2013. The Twitter darling was brutal in the first half while battling command and control issues. Something clicked for the Tennessee native in the second half and he was downright unhittable at times. In 23 appearances in Low-A ball, he struck out 99 batters in 85.2 innings and earned one late-season start in High-A ball.

The Scouting Report: When he can command his pitches, Norris has some of the best stuff in the system from the left side. He flashes above-average fastball velocity in the low-to-mid 90s and he has a potentially-plus curveball. The changeup could also develop into an average-or-better offering for him. Because he has above-average athleticism, the expectation is that Norris will be able to overcome his deficiencies given enough time and innings to fully develop.

The Year Ahead: Norris will return to the Florida State League to begin the 2014 season. The warmer weather could help him get off to a quicker start to the year. If he shows improved command and control, it could allow the organization an opportunity to expedite Norris’ development. If all goes well, he could make a handful of starts at the Double-A level in the second half of the year.

The Career Outlook: Norris probably won’t ever show enough command and control to develop into a true No. 1 starter but he has the stuff to become a solid No. 2 or 3 starter at the big league level. His strong makeup should help him squeeze out every ounce of available skill.

#5 Roberto Osuna | 60/A- (P)
17 10 10 42.1 39 6 10.84 2.34 5.53 3.55
The Year in Review: Osuna would have ranked higher on this list based on his natural talent alone but the 18-year-old hurler’s season came to a screeching halt when he hurt his elbow in April. He spent the month of May rehabbing the injury while the organization tried to avoid Tommy John surgery. He returned to the mound to make another five starts in June and early July before the front office finally shut him down for good. He finally underwent surgery for the torn elbow ligament but the delay in the procedure means he’s a write-off for all of 2014.

The Scouting Report: Prior to the injury, Osuna was considered advanced for is age. He displayed both above-average command and control. His fastball worked in the low-to-mid 90s and he showed an above-average changeup. The breaking ball was the least-developed offering in his repertoire and the time off certainly won’t do him any favors.

The Year Ahead: Osuna will likely spend the entire 2014 season rehabbing his elbow at the spring training complex in Florida. He’s not likely to see official game action until the 2015 season but age is on his side. He’ll have to work hard during his time off to ensure his larger frame doesn’t get out of hand.

The Career Outlook: Osuna has just 10 games of experience above short-season ball and he’s still a teenager so it’s difficult to predict his future, especially given the injury. He has the raw ability — assuming it bounces all the way back — to be a No. 2 starter at the big league level.

#6 Alberto Tirado | 55/R (P)
18 12 8 48.1 41 1 8.19 3.72 1.68 3.39
The Year in Review: Tirado, a Dominican native, is just 18 years old but he made older hitters in the Appalachian League look foolish at times while posting a 1.68 ERA in 12 appearances. He struck out 44 batters and walked 20 in 48.1 innings of work.

The Scouting Report: Tirado’s name is becoming known quite well in and around the Jays organization but it hasn’t leaked out into the mainstream… just yet. The right-hander does a decent job of commanding his low-to-mid-90s fastball and he induces a lot of ground-ball outs. His second best offering is a changeup and his breaking ball is showing signs of improving. Tirado struggled against southpaw hitters in 2013 (LHHs batted .290, RHHs hit .200) and he needs to do a better job of commanding the inner half of the strike zone against them.

The Year Ahead: Tirado will be just 19 years old in 2014 but he could open the season in full-season ball in the Midwest League. As mentioned earlier, Toronto is fairly conservative with its prospects so there’s a chance the young hurler will be held back in extended spring training, at least until the weather warms up.

The Career Outlook: Assuming his smallish frame holds up, Tirado has the makings of a No. 2 or 3 starter at the big league level. There’s also a chance that he could end up as a high-leverage reliever if his repertoire fails to fully develop.

#7 A.J. Jimenez | 50/AA (C)
23 283 75 19 4 18 42 1 .287 .332 .406 .336
The Year in Review: It was a frustrating season for Jimenez who worked his way back after having Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow in 2012. After appearing in just 27 games the year before, the catcher managed to play 67 games in 2013 while battling through elbow soreness. Even so, he reached Triple-A for eight games after spending most of the season at the Double-A level. Jimenez, 23, was supposed to catch up for lost time in the Arizona Fall League but the continued elbow issues wiped out that plan.

The Scouting Report: Jimenez is a defense-first catcher who has strong receiving skills, good blocking abilities and has a reputation for controlling the running game, when healthy. At the plate, the Puerto Rican utilizes a line-drive swing and could hit his fair share of doubles in the Majors but he’ll likely never be a power hitter due to the lack of loft generated by his swing. Jimenez, 23, is an aggressive hitter but he makes consistent contact. Formerly an outfielder in his amateur days, he once had above-average speed for a catcher but his lower half has thickened up and he’s slowed down.

The Year Ahead: If his elbow is sound, Jimenez should be the starter catcher at the Triple-A level. The starting catching assignment in Toronto is currently in a state of flux with incumbent J.P. Arencibia on the bubble and free agent acquisition Dioner Navarro coming in after a career year.

The Career Outlook: Jimenez has a chance to be a second-division everyday backstop in the Majors because the offensive bar is set pretty low for catchers. His defense alone could make him a valuable asset to a big league club, if only as a platoon or back-up player… again, assuming his elbow doesn’t force a move to another position, which would pretty much be a death sentence for his big league dreams.

#8 D.J. Davis | 55/R (OF)
20 258 54 8 6 26 76 13 .240 .323 .418 .340
The Year in Review: Davis’ second professional season wasn’t much better than his first. He spent the entire year in the Appalachian League but hit just .240 and struck out 76 times in 58 games. He displayed good pop (21 of his 54 hits went for extra bases) for a player who’s known for his speed.

The Scouting Report: Davis just oozes tools, which is how he ended up going 17th overall in the 2012 amateur draft. Unfortunately, he’s still quite raw with the bat, which is why he repeated short-season ball this past season and had modest results. Davis needs to improve his pitch recognition and also become more selective at the plate. The Mississippi native has enough power at the plate that it gets in his head and takes away from what his focus should be: getting on base and utilizing his legs. He stole just 13 bases in 21 attempts in 2013 despite plus speed.

The Year Ahead: It would be a huge blow to Davis’ development if he were to return to extended spring training for a third season — especially as a former first round pick given how unheard of that move would be. Unfortunately, he may struggle during his first taste of full-season ball unless he makes a lot of adjustments to his approach between now and April.

The Career Outlook: Davis is your classic boom-or-bust first round draft pick. He has the potential to be an all-star player based on both his offensive and defensive skills but he could also wash out before he reaches Triple-A.

#9 Matt Smoral | 55/R (P)
19 15 5 25.2 22 1 9.47 9.12 7.01 5.81
The Year in Review: Generally speaking, it wasn’t a great development year for prospects in the Jays system and Smoral is another example of that fact. The tall lefty posted a 7.01 ERA in 15 appearances in the rookie Gulf Coast League. He walked 26 batters to go along with 27 strikeouts in 25.2 innings of work. The good news is that he induced a ton of ground balls and allowed just one home run.

The Scouting Report: Command and control are two major areas of concerns with Smoral. The good news is that very tall pitchers — this prospect checks in at 6-8, 220 pounds — typically take much longer to develop and get their delivery under control. Injuries robbed Smoral of valuable development time both as an amateur and in 2012 after turning pro. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s and he flashes an above-average slider. His nascent changeup needs a lot of work.

The Year Ahead: Smoral, 19, will almost certainly be held back in extended spring training. His biggest need is to find the plate on a consistent basis while also discovering a way to repeat his delivery. If he shows some improvements in extended spring training and during his assignment to rookie ball in June, Smoral may be given a late-season taste of the Midwest League to prepare him for the big jump in 2015.

The Career Outlook: Smoral has all the ingredients to develop into a front-line starter. If he can’t develop his changeup in a timely fashion, he could end up as a high-leverage reliever.

#10 Sean Nolin | 50/MLB (P)
23 1.1 0.00 6.75 30.0 % 40.50 15.05 9.40 -0.4 -0.1
The Year in Review: Coming off of his eye-opening 2012 season, Nolin was assigned to Double-A ball but his season didn’t get started until early May due to a lingering injury. Despite that, Toronto curiously added him to the 40-man roster in late May for one big league start in which he was bounced around by the Baltimore Orioles. He was then returned to the minors (burning one of his three minor league options) and spent much of the year in Double-A. Nolin received three late-season starts in Triple-A but was noticeably absent from the September big league call-ups.

The Scouting Report: Nolin could develop into a solid No. 4 starter with the ability to chew up a ton of innings. The southpaw has good control but is still working to establish consistent fastball command. His heater ranges from the high-80s to the low-90s. His repertoire also includes an above-average changeup and two breaking balls (curveball, slider). Standing 6-5, Nolin needs to do a better job of leveraging his height to create a downward plane on the ball in an effort to work down in the strike zone on a more consistent basis.

The Year Ahead: There are a number of young pitchers currently vying for open spots in the starting rotation — including more experienced guys like Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek — and Toronto is actively seeking one or two veteran starters, so Nolin will almost certainly open 2014 in Triple-A. He’ll need a strong start to the year to help differentiate himself from the masses.

The Career Outlook: As mentioned above, the native of New York state has a chance to be a reliable back-of-the-rotation workhorse, and players of that description are harder to come by than you might think — especially ones that throw left-handed. He might be attractive to another organization as a nearly-ready, southpaw hurler should trade discussions turn into something concrete this off-season.

The Next Five:

11. Franklin Barreto, SS: Signed for more than a $1 million out of Venezuela in 2012, Barreto is an ultra-talented shortstop who spent the 2013 season playing in rookie ball at the age of 17. Just 5’9”, he generates good raw power (currently gap strength) because of his strong wrists, forearms and bat speed. Barreto has an advanced approach at the plate for his age and makes solid contact despite a somewhat aggressive approach. He’s a stretch defensively at shortstop and should eventually end up in the outfield. Of the players ranked 11-15, he’s the most likely to zoom up this prospect list in 2014 and find his way to the front of the pack.

12. Kevin Pillar, OF: Pillar is a player I’ve often likened to former Jays outfielder Reed Johnson because they can both do a little bit of everything but lack standout tools. The prospect had a stellar 2013 season in the minors by hitting more than .300 with 39 doubles and 23 steals in a combined 123 games between Double-A and Triple-A but he struggled in the Majors. Pillar’s ceiling is probably that of a platoon or fourth outfielder but he could luck into a few seasons worth of regular playing time similar to Johnson.

13. Dalton Pompey, OF: Pompey, who hails from Mississauga, Ontario, has been a personal favorite of mine since his first pro season. He doesn’t turn 21 until December and already has four seasons of pro ball under his belt. Pompey projects to develop into an outstanding defensive outfielder, he has the speed to steal 20-30 bases and he shows flashes of developing into an average or better hitter with gap power. He’ll move up to High-A ball in 2014 and could see Double-A before the year is out.

14. Tom Robson, RHP: A British Columbia native, Robson has seen his fastball velocity spike upward since turning pro in 2011. It now sits comfortably in the low 90s. The Canadian flashes a potentially-plus changeup but his breaking ball needs further development. He has a big, strong pitchers frame and should eventually develop into a middle-of-the-rotation innings-eater. He could receive his first taste of full-season baseball in 2014 by he opening up the year in the Midwest League at the age of 20.

15. Jairo Labourt, LHP: There were quite a few names that were considered for this final spot given how close together, talent wise, the young players are in the lower levels of the Jays system. Labourt won the honors for his ability to induce both strikeouts and ground-ball outs while showing above-average velocity from the left side of the mound. If his secondary stuff develops, he could be a beast.

2014 Top 10 Prospects: Arizona Diamondbacks.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Arizona features a solid system that could quickly become elite if the 2013 draftees develop as I expect them to after a very strong draft class. There is also upper level talent to consider. As many as eight of the 10 top prospects could see time in the Majors in the coming season.

#1 Archie Bradley | 70/AAA (P)
20 26 26 152.0 115 6 9.59 4.09 1.84 3.06
The Year in Review: At the beginning of the season — and at the age of 20 — Bradley had 29 games of professional experience under his belt. By the end of 2013, he had made another 26 starts and reached Double-A well before his 21st birthday in late August. He ended the season with an ERA of just 1.84 and struck out 162 hitters in 152.0 innings.

The Scouting Report: Standing 6-4 and weighing in at 225 pounds, the Oklahoma native has a big, strong frame that has already proven capable of handling a significant number of innings. Bradley’s control still needs sharpening but the fastball command has noticeably improved over ’12 as he worked hard on becoming more consistent with his delivery. His heater sits in the mid-to-upper 90s and the breaking ball gives him two plus pitches. He could stand to mix in his changeup more because it shows flashes of being above-average.

The Year Ahead: After making 21 starts at the Double-A level in 2013, Bradley should move up to Triple-A at the start of 2014. If all goes well, he could join fellow young pitchers Pat Corbin, Tyler Skaggs, Randall Delgado, and Wade Miley in the big league starting rotation (or help push one of them out) in the second half of the season.

The Career Outlook: Bradley is one of few pitching prospects in the minors who legitimately projects to develop into a No. 1 starter. His command will have to take a step forward for him to truly realize his potential but the same thing can be said for most young pitchers.

#2 Braden Shipley | 60/A- (P)
21 12 12 39.2 44 3 9.08 3.18 4.99 3.38
The Year in Review: Shipley, 21, parlayed a strong junior season at the University of Nevada into the 15th overall selection in the draft and a $2.25 million bonus. He’s still somewhat green as a pitcher and is polishing his secondary offerings, as well as his command and control. His pro debut was split between short-season ball and low-A ball where he made 12 starts. Shipley struggled early but made adjustments and found success.

The Scouting Report: The young hurler entered college as a shortstop and has only been pitching full-time for a couple years now. As a result, Shipley has a chance take some big steps forward as he acclimates himself to pro ball. He has a strong fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and his changeup has plus potential. He’s still developing his breaking ball but he shows a natural feel for spinning it and made huge strides with it by Arizona’s fall instructional league. Shipley’s above-average athleticism helps him repeat his delivery and field his position.

The Year Ahead: Shipley made just four starts in Low-A ball but he could very well open 2014 in High-A ball. If his breaking ball continues to develop as expected he should move fairly quickly through the system. Expect him to reach Double-A at some point in the coming season.

The Career Outlook: Shipley has the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter and could reach the Majors by the end of 2015, if everything goes well. If the curveball becomes an average or better offering it could allow him to become an impact pitcher at the big league level.

#3 Matt Davidson | 60/MLB (3B)
22 87 11.5 % 27.6 % .237 .333 .434 .336 108 0.3 -1.0 0.2
The Year in Review: The 35th overall selection of the 2009 amateur draft, Davidson made his MLB debut in 2013 after spending much of the year in Triple-A. He continued to strike out a lot but produced a decent batting average and also showed flashes of his power potential. He struggled mightily against left-handed pitching in Triple-A, striking out in 41 of his 102 at-bats.

The Scouting Report: Davidson is Arizona’s best overall hitting prospect and he’s solidified his case to stick at the hot corner after spending the 2011 season split between the hot corner and first base, He still makes youthful errors at the position but he’s improved in almost every aspect, including his footwork, throwing/accuracy and range. At the plate, Davidson shows impressive gap power that should produce a plethora of two-baggers and 15-20 homers in a full season. His high strikeout totals will drag down his batting average at the big league level.

The Year Ahead: Davidson could be ready to contribute regularly at the big league level but he’s likely headed for a full season at Triple-A unless there’s an unexpected (and significant) injury at the big league level. There’s a small chance that he could be looked at to replace free agent Eric Chavez as the backup corner infielder but the lack of regular playing time would likely stunt the prospect’s development.

The Career Outlook: The rise of Paul Goldschmidt at first base and Martin Prado‘s contract (through 2016) at third base have created serious roadblocks for Davidson. His best opportunity at regular playing time would be a trade.

#4 Chris Owings | 60/MLB (SS)
21 61 9.8 % 16.4 % .291 .361 .382 .326 102 0.3 1.2 0.4
The Year in Review: It was a successful season at the plate for Owings, who spent the majority of the year in Triple-A and hit .330 while producing gap power and stealing 20 bases. In the field, he showed improvements at shortstop and also spent 11 games at second base, which helped to increase his versatility and overall value to the organization.

The Scouting Report: Owings, 22, does a lot of things well. With the exception of a blip in 2011, he’s always hit for average as a pro despite an overly-aggressive approach at the plate. That leads to low walk rates and, as a result, modest on-base averages fuelled almost solely by Owings’ batting average. He has above-average bat speed and excellent hand-eye coordination. As he matures as a hitter, he could hit 15-20 home runs in the Majors. Defensively, he boasts a strong arm that helps him compensate for average range.

The Year Ahead: Fellow young shortstop Didi Gregorius has the edge for the starting gig at shortstop in 2014 and Aaron Hill is entrenched at second base. Like Davidson, Owings best shot at regular playing time in The Show in 2014 is a trade or an injury. He should spend a fair bit of time at the Triple-A level during the coming season.

The Career Outlook: Owings’ overly-aggressive approach could keep him from fully realizing his full potential. He has the tools to be an above-average middle infielder. If that projection falls short, he could settle in as a utility player.

#5 Andrew Chafin | 55/AA (P)
23 29 27 159.2 154 7 6.76 3.27 3.27 3.41
The Year in Review: Archie Bradley got a ton of attention in the Diamondbacks’ system in 2013, and deservedly so, but Chafin also had a nice season while playing in both High-A and Double-A. The left-handed hurler was assigned to the Arizona Fall League after the regular season concluded but he made just two relief appearances (and struggled mightily with his command) before being shut down.

The Scouting Report: Chafin has a solid fastball for a lefty and it sits in the low 90s. He also has a potentially-plus slider and an improving changeup. He has a solid pitcher’s frame but has already undergone Tommy John surgery and his delivery is not the smoothest. Chafin’s strikeout rate dipped all the way to 6.20 in 21 Double-A starts but I was told by a contact that the hurler made a conscious effort to pitch more to contact in the strong hitters’ league.

The Year Ahead: Chafin should join Bradley in the Triple-A starting rotation and could be a hot month or two away from making his MLB debut. The 23-year-old pitcher could also open his big league career in the bullpen, even if the organization feels his future is in the starting rotation. The 40-man roster has a solid number of southpaw arms that will be fighting for a ‘pen assignment, but there are few established/reliable options.

The Career Outlook: As it stands, Chafin appears to have a greater shot of being an impact pitcher out of the bullpen than the starting rotation. With a little more polish, though, it’s not hard to envision him becoming a mid-rotation starter in the Majors. Perhaps Arizona could cobble together an interesting trade package with Chafin and Matt Davidson or Chris Owings to fill another hole on the 25-man roster.

#6 Jake Lamb | 55/A+ (3B)
22 392 98 28 14 61 100 0 .302 .413 .517 .410
The Year in Review: Prior to the 2013 season, I identified Lamb as a potential sleeper (thanks to recommendations from talent evaluators). The third baseman appeared in just 64 games but he posted a walk rate of 17% and an isolated slugging rate of .255 while hitting .303 in the offence-padding California League. The strikeout rate of almost 25% is the most glaring inefficiency in his stats line.

The Scouting Report: Lamb is an advanced hitter who should hit for a strong batting average. He’s still growing into his raw power and could hit for average or better power as he matures but he currently has a gap-to-gap focus. Lamb is a strong defender at third base and the Diamondbacks feel he’ll have no issues sticking at third base. Despite the roadblocks ahead of him, there are no plans to move him. With that said, though, his athleticism could allow him to play elsewhere in the field should push come to shove.

The Year Ahead: Lamb will move up to Double-A in 2014 after catching up for lost time due to his broken hamate bone by playing in the Arizona Fall League (where he posted an .802 OPS). With Martin Prado and Matt Davidson ahead of him on the third base depth chart, even a strong offensive season probably won’t be enough to push him into consideration for a big league call-up in ’14.

The Career Outlook: This coming season could be the year that Lamb becomes more of a household name among prospect watchers and Arizona fans, due to his ability to hit for average with gap power and strong defence. All the Diamondbacks have to do is find a place to play him… and watch him develop into an average or better big league third baseman.

#7 David Holmberg | 50/MLB (P)
21 3.2 0.00 7.36 25.0 % 7.36 5.50 8.48 -0.1 0.0
The Year in Review: Holmberg, 22, pitched more than 154 innings for the third straight season, which is an almost unheard of accomplishment for a pitching prospect in this day and age of coddling young hurlers. The lefty made 26 starts at the Double-A level before receiving one big league appearance where he got bounced around when his command get left behind in the minors.

The Scouting Report: Arizona has a number of flashy pitching prospects coming up through the ranks but Holmberg is not one of them. That’s not to say he isn’t talented but the southpaw is the type of pitching prospect that tends to fly under the radar. He doesn’t have a big-time fastball or wipeout breaking ball but he’s durable, and has above-average command/control of his four-pitch repertoire that includes a fastball with fringe-average velocity, two average breaking balls in a curveball and slider, as well as a plus changeup.

The Year Ahead: There are a lot of talented young arms in the Diamondbacks system that should pitch at either the Double-A, Triple-A or Major League level in 2014 so Holmberg will be matched up against a collection of impressive arms all vying for a big league opportunity. He still has two option years remaining so he has plenty of time to establish himself as a big-league-caliber pitcher.

The Career Outlook: Holmberg has a modest ceiling and will likely settle in as an innings-eating No. 4 starter. His history of high innings totals in the minors suggest that he could eventually be counted on for 200-230 innings a season as a poor man’s Mark Buehrle.

#8 Jake Barrett | 55/AA (P)
21 61 0 60.2 49 6 10.09 2.67 1.93 3.28
The Year in Review: Barrett was a busy man in his first full pro season. Selected in the third round of the 2012 draft out of Arizona State University, the right-handed reliever has moved swiftly through the Diamondbacks system and pitched at both High-A and Double-A in 2013. Barrett finished the regular season with a 1.21 ERA in 52 games. He also appeared in nine games during Arizona Fall League action but looked tired and got beat around a bit.

The Scouting Report: Barrett has a good fastball-slider combination and his above-average control has helped him find success. His fastball command comes and goes at times but it shows the potential to be above-average. He definitely has all the tools necessary to be a high-leverage reliever in the big leagues, including the bulldog mentality and love for pitching with the game on the line.

The Year Ahead: WIth just 24.2 innings of experience above A-ball, Barrett will likely return to Double-A to open the 2014 season — especially after his bumpy AFL experience. Still, it wouldn’t shocking to see him reach Triple-A before the all-star break and perhaps receive a cup of coffee in the Majors in the second half of the year.

The Career Outlook: The big league club doesn’t currently feature a true, prototypical closer type on the 40-man roster but that should change once Barrett has his contract purchased. He’s probably about three years away from settling in to a regular closer’s role in the Majors.

#9 Zeke Spruill | 50/MLB (P)
23 11.1 7.15 3.97 39.5 % 5.56 6.49 4.86 -0.4 -0.2
The Year in Review: It was an odd year for Spruill. His overall results and numbers were down but good news came in the form of his first big league promotion. The right-hander split his minor league season between Double-A and Triple-A. In the Majors, he made six appearances including two starts but allowed a lot of base runners in his 11.1 innings.

The Scouting Report: Spruill has never been a big strikeout guy but his numbers dipped even more in 2013. He has a four-pitch repertoire — 87-92 mph fastball, slider, curveball and changeup — but he favors the first two offerings. He combined to use his fastball and slider 90% of the time during his big league stint. His slider is not of the swing-and-miss variety but it throws off hitters’ timings and helps him create above-average ground-ball rates.

The Year Ahead: Drafted out of a Georgia high school in 2008, Spruill already has six years of minor league seasoning under his belt but he appears headed back to Triple-A for a second tour of duty. I’ve said it before on this list and I’ll say it again: Arizona has a lot of pitching depth so the right-hander will be in a dogfight for a big league promotion.

The Career Outlook: Like Holmberg ahead of him, Spruill is a pitcher that projects to settle in at the backend of a big league rotation while providing a healthy amount of inning. He’ll keep the infielders busy with his ground-ball tendencies. Finding a consistent weapon to combat left-handed hitters might help him raise his profile a bit.

#10 Stryker Trahan | 55/R (C)
19 262 60 15 10 24 57 1 .254 .328 .462 .350
The Year in Review: While a lot of first round draft picks reached full-season ball during their first full regular pro season, Trahan received a second assignment to short-season ball after working on his defence in extended spring training. He struck out at a high rate but he also produced a fair bit of power with 27 of his 60 hits going for extra bases.

The Scouting Report: Trahan has a chance to have two above-average tools for a catcher in his ability to hit for average and power. The left-handed hitter hangs in well against southpaws. Defensively, Trahan made significant strides behind the plate in 2013 and the organization feels he should be able to stick at the position as he moves up through the minors and into the Majors. His receiving and blocking still needs some polish but his throwing improved and he nabbed 40% of would-be base stealers.

The Year Ahead: Trahan will almost certainly receive his first assignment to full-season ball in 2014 and it could be his defensive work that dictates how quickly he moves. With that said, he’ll likely spend most, if not all, of the season in Low-A.

The Career Outlook: Trahan should develop into a strong offensive player with above-average power but will need to make more consistent contact to hit for average. At worst, he could develop into a Mike Napoli type of player who catches a little bit while also seeing time at first base and designated hitter (if he makes his way to the American League at some point).

The Next Five:

Brandon Drury, 3B: Arizona’s pro scouting department did a bang-up job identifying Drury as a guy to add to last year’s Justin Upton trade with Atlanta. Few people saw the third baseman as a relevant prospect after he posted a .603 OPS in low-A ball in 2012 but he rebounded significantly in ’13, albeit at the same level. Drury slugged 51 doubles, along with 15 home runs, while also hitting above .300 in 134 games. He’ll enter 2014 looking to prove the previous season wash’t a fluke and playing in the California League should give him a significant boost.

Justin Williams, OF: Drafted in the second round of the amateur draft in 2013, Williams spent much of the season playing at the age of 17. He surprised just about everyone with a more advanced approach at the plate than expected. He played at three minor league levels, topping out in Low-A, and hit .351 in a combined 51 games. Even though he went deep just once in his debut, the left-handed hitter has power to all fields. Defensively, he was moved to the outfield from the infield after signing but showed some rough edges. He’s expected to be an average or better defender in time, and the organization even considered having him spend time at the hot corner.

Matt Stites, RHP: If Jake Barrett isn’t the closer-of-the-future in Arizona, then perhaps Stites is the man. The hard-throwing right-hander was acquired from the San Diego Padres in 2013 during the Ian Kennedy deal. He has a low-to-mid-90s fastball, good slider and occasional changeup, and complements his repertoire with plus control. He’s under 6-feet tall so there are concerns about both durability and pitch plane so he may end up as more of a seventh- or eighth-inning reliever.

Aaron Blair, RHP: Blair is a big, strong hitter who stands 6-5 and weighs in at 230 pounds. His fastball fluctuates between 89-95 mph but he’s not a strikeout pitcher. His focus is on disrupting hitters’ timings and making them pull the ball into play. I was told the two most important things for the right-hander are location and movement. He also throws a plus changeup, slider and curveball, although both breaking balls needs work to become average offerings. Blair as the ceiling of a No. 3 or 4 starter and the bulldog mentality that helps him get the most out of his abilities.

Sergio Alcantara, SS: You probably haven’t heard much about this former big-ticket signee out of the Dominican Republic but he has a chance to develop into a very good big league shortstop. He also flashes strong defense and a canon for an arm. At the plate, the switch-hitter doesn’t have much present power but should have gap pop as he matures. He has an advanced approach and strong eye for his age and could eventually make a strong No. 1 or 2 hitter.

2014 Top 10 Prospects: Seattle Mariners.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Mariners organization features some exciting young arms with seven of the Top 10 players applying their trade on the mound. The front office has done an exceptional job of acquiring talent both through the annual amateur draft and the international free agent market. Every player in the Top 15 was originally signed by the club. Seattle will enter 2014 with one of the best systems in baseball.

To make the Mariners list even more enjoyable this year, I enlisted the aid of a writer who probably knows the the system better than anyone outside of the organization. Jason Churchill of Prospect Insider — who you might also know from ESPN — graciously agreed to provide his thoughts and opinions on each player in the Top 10. We both wrote our comments separately with no input from each other so you may find some contradictions but, for the most part, our reports share a lot of similarities.

#1 Taijuan Walker | 70/MLB (P)
20 15.0 7.20 2.40 38.1 % 3.60 2.25 3.80 0.2 0.5
The Year in Review: Walker didn’t turn 21 until midway through August but that didn’t stop him from pitching at two minor league levels — Double-A and Triple-A — before ending the season in the Mariners’ big league rotation. The young right-hander made three starts in The Show, two of which came against the lowly Houston Astros.

The Scouting Report: Walker has dominating stuff. The right-hander’s velocity on his fastball sat at 95 mph in his three MLB starts thanks in part to his quick arm action. He’s developed a hard cutter that he throws 88-92 mph and it definitely has a chance to be a plus pitch for him. Both Walker’s curveball and changeup need further refinement and he needs to do a better job of finishing off his pitches. The young pitcher’s delivery is very upright and I’d like to see a little more follow through with his delivery to mitigate the strain on his shoulder. Walker could probably use another two or three months of seasoning in the minors but he could survive in The Show on his raw stuff, which is good enough for him to get away with some mistakes.

The Year Ahead: Walker has positioned himself well to be considered for a spot in the Mariners’ opening day starting rotation. His strongest competition will likely come from fellow youngsters James Paxton and Brandon Maurer. Even if he opens the year in the minors, Walker should see the Majors by the all-star break.

Final Thoughts by Jason Churchill: Walker is now in the final stages of his development from prospect to big-league starting pitcher, but there are years of refinement ahead if he’s to turn into a No. 1. Walker’s athleticism helps him keep his delivery free and easy, which in turn allows him to work off the mid-90s heater, and use his cutter to keep batters off an underdeveloped set of offspeed pitches. More consistency with his changeup and curveball are necessary, but he’s among the very best pitching prospects in the game, thanks to the life on his fastball and his maturity after just three years in pro ball. He’s ready for the show after a cup of coffee in 2013.

#2 D.J. Peterson | 60/R (3B)
21 230 63 11 13 20 42 1 .303 .365 .553 .417
The Year in Review: Peterson, an Arizona native, was drafted 12th overall in the 2013 amateur draft after an outstanding college career at the University of New Mexico. His immense potential was on full display during trips to both the Northwest and Midwest Leagues but his season was cut short by an ugly beaning that result in his jaw being wired shut after surgery. Peterson ended his first pro season with a batting average of more than .300 and an OPS of .918 in 55 games.

The Scouting Report: Peterson displays good bat speed, which helps him compensate for his open stance and allows him to get to pitches on the outer half of the plate. Regardless, he may continue to get challenged away and will have to show a willingness to go the other way and utilize the whole field. He has a fairly short batting stroke for a power hitter and the ball jumps off the bat. Defensively, he’s a fringe-average defender with a strong arm who may eventually be moved to a corner outfield position.

The Year Ahead: Beanings can take both a physical and a mental toll on a player so Peterson will no doubt be watched closely in the spring. Prior to the injury, he was probably headed to High-A ball to open the 2014 season but the organization may now want to bring him along more slowly and return him to Low-A ball, at least for a month or two. Either way, if he’s back to his old self, he should be a quick mover.

Final Thoughts by Jason Churchill: Peterson can flat out hit, and the Mariners drafted him to do so, despite the likelihood that he’ll have to move across the field and play first base rather than his natural position at the hot corner. He’s a year or two from the big leagues, but Peterson shouldn’t take long to break into the majors as a Billy Butler type bat, perhaps with more home run power, and a much better chance to play in the field regularly. It wouldn’t be surprising if he saw Safeco Field in September of 2014 with shot to make the 25-man roster out of spring training the following year.

#3 James Paxton | 55/MLB (P)
24 24.0 7.88 2.63 59.1 % 1.50 3.26 3.08 1.1 0.5
The Year in Review: Consistency problems continued to plague Paxton in 2013. He was lights-out at times, while at other times his command played games of cat-and-mouse. The Canadian left-hander actually pitched better in the Majors than he did in the minors (partly owing perhaps to the small-sample size) and put himself into a good position for the 2014 season.

The Scouting Report: Paxton has good stuff for a lefty. He has easy velocity and the fastball sits in the 92-96 mph range with arm-side run. His curveball shows potential as a plus pitch but it needs to be more consistent. I’ve seen some very good changeups from him but he throws the offering a little too hard at 86 mph. When his fastball is 96 mph that’s fine, but there isn’t enough separation if his heater is sitting 92. He’s at his best when he can command his offerings down in the zone and can get into trouble when he elevates. Paxton has a long arm action but his delivery has some flair to it, which creates some distraction for the hitters.

The Year Ahead: Paxton recently turned 25 years old so he’s more mature than most of the pitchers on this list. He’s a favorite to earn a spot in the opening day starting rotation but he’ll have to become more consistent if he’s going to hold down the job. After finishing just shy of 170 innings pitched in 2013, Paxton could come close to the 200-inning mark in 2014 — especially if he’s more efficient with his pitch count.

Final Thoughts by Jason Churchill: At mid-season, scouts were talking about Paxton as a reliever, or at best a back-end starter who can’t throw enough strikes to get to 200 innings, despite the plus fastball and curveball. Since then, Paxton has compacted a long-levered delivery which has helped him pound the strike zone and take advantage of his raw stuff. Surprisingly, he’s terrific at holding runners — despite the slower actions from set to release — and he flashed frontline abilities after a big-league call-up in September. He’s a future No. 2 starter if he keeps it all together, carrying a No. 4 floor, and keeping a future in the bullpen at bey as long as he throws strikes.

#4 Victor Sanchez | 60/A- (P)
18 20 20 113.1 106 4 6.27 1.43 2.78 2.87
The Year in Review: The young pitcher was a workhorse in 2013 and compiled 113.1 innings in 20 starts at the Low-A ball level. His skills were on full display when threw a no-hitter in July against Toronto’s Midwest League affiliate.

The Scouting Report: The 18-year-old hurler has well-above-average control for his age but needs to improve the command of his heater in the strike zone. Sanchez’s arm action naturally gives hitters a long look at the ball out of his hand. His changeup is his second-best offering but his breaking ball needs polish and he needs to trust it more. Built like tank, Sanchez will have to watch his conditioning as he ages to avoid losing his flexibility. He’s already very upright in his delivery and isn’t the most athletic while fielding his position.

The Year Ahead: Sanchez will face a stiff test when he’s tossed to the wolves as a 19 year old in the California League. The assignment should challenge him to work down in the zone a little more and trim his fly-ball tendencies. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could see Double-A by the end of 2014.

Final Thoughts by Jason Churchill: Sanchez is a strike-thrower with average to slightly above-average velocity with his fastball, but good pitchability and a consistent delivery. There are some mechanical fixes to be made, but the kid knows how to pitch and is adept at mixing in a two-plane slurve and changeup with regularity, and getting called strikes with each early in counts. There’s no physical projection to be seen with Sanchez — he’s listed at 6-feet and 255 pounds — but he’s fairly polished and could serve as a No. 4 starter as early as mid-2015.

#5 Danny Hultzen | 60/AAA (P)
23 7 7 35.2 22 1 10.60 1.77 2.02 1.88
The Year in Review: There were some high-profile injuries in the Mariners’ system in 2013 and Hultzen’s was probably the worst. The southpaw ended the 2012 season with control/command woes (43 walks in 48.2 Triple-A innings) and was then haunted by shoulder problems throughout the 2013 season. He made just seven starts on the season and had surgery to repair his rotator cuff and labrum at the beginning of October.

The Scouting Report: Before the injury, Hultzen was clearly the top southpaw pitching prospect in the minor leagues. His across-the-body delivery — which adds deception and can improve pitch movement — could have exacerbated the shoulder problems. When healthy, the young pitcher shows a slightly-above-average fastball that works in the low-90s and can touch 94-95 mph. His changeup was an above-average offering, while his slider was developing at a slightly slower pace.

The Year Ahead: Clearly it’s a big blow to the organization to lose a player of Hultzen’s talent level to injury. The second overall selection in the 2011 amateur draft, the lefty could miss all of the 2014 season while rehabbing from the intensive surgery. Injuries to the rotator cuff and labrum ruined a lot more careers than those to the elbow.

Final Thoughts by Jason Churchill: Hultzen pitched very well in each of his seven starts a year ago, and it appeared he’d figured out his mechanics enough to throw strikes consistently after a long bout of control problems the second half of 2012. He’ comfortable in the 89-91 mph range with his four-seam fastball, and employs a slider versus left-handed batters and a curveball against right-handed batters. His changeup is his best pitch, often using it to get swings and misses. Unfortunately, those mechanics — he throws across his body with gross severity — likely contributed to his current medical situation, which includes shoulder surgery that will keep him out until the 2015 season. Hultzen’s ceiling as a soft No. 2 or solid No. 3 may be in jeopardy as a result.

#6 Tyler Pike | 55/A- (P)
19 22 22 110.1 73 5 7.34 4.65 2.37 3.73
The Year in Review: Another talented left-handed pitcher on this list, Pike is proving to be a steal as a former third round draft pick (2012) out of a Florida high school. The southpaw more than held his own as a teenager in the Low-A Midwest League. He allowed just 73 hits in 110.1 innings and posted a 2.37 ERA but struggled to throw strikes at times.

The Scouting Report: Pike shows good athleticism while flashing a solid repertoire. His heater works in the high 80s to low 90s, his curveball shows potential but needs to be tightened up and his changeup came along nicely in 2013. The young lefty utilizes an over-the-head delivery with a high leg kick from the full windup so it’s easy to see why he struggles with both his command and control. He tries to guide the ball at times, which also hurts his command. On the plus side, though, his delivery helps him hide the ball, which gives hitters less time to identify the pitches coming out of his hand. Pike needs to do a better job of commanding the inner half of the plate against right-handed hitters.

The Year Ahead: The young pitcher will move up to High-A ball as a 20 year old but the offense-happy California League can eat up and spit out pitchers before they know what hit them. As a result,Pike may only spend a couple month there before being moved up to Double-A. It’s an aggressive timetable for such a young pitcher but he should have both the talent and the maturity to handle the assignments.

Final Thoughts by Jason Churchill: Pike is an athletic Tom Glavine clone southpaw, and one who could move quickly once he settles in on a set of mechanics that work for him. As is, Pike offers upper-80s velocity — touching the low-90s — with an above-average changeup and curveball. The upside here is limited, but the probability he starts in the Majors, sans injury, is fairly high, and despite the lack of ideal stature – 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds or so — Pike’s stuff suggest he could be a terrific No. 4 or perhaps even a No. 3 if all goes right. He’ll start 2014 with a chance to set himself up for a big-league appearance in 2015, though he’s got a lot of work to do.

#7 Edwin Diaz | 55/R (P)
19 13 13 69.0 45 5 10.30 2.35 1.43 2.81
The Year in Review: Just 19 years old, Diaz more than held his own in the advanced-rookie Appalachian League. His above-average control was on full display when he walked just 18 batters (and struck out 79) in 69.0 innings. Diaz also showed some ice in his veins by being extremely tough to hit once batters reached base and got into scoring position.

The Scouting Report: Diaz displayed above average control for his age in 2013 and his command has also took a step forward, although it was inconsistent at times. The Puerto Rico native works with his fastball in the low to mid 90s. His breaking ball improved significantly in 2013, which helped him overpower hitters in the low minors but the changeup needs further refinement. Extremely skinny when he signed in 2012, Diaz has since added on about 20 pounds and has room to add even more in an effort to improve his durability and perhaps add another tick or two to his heater.

The Year Ahead: Diaz is ready for full-season ball and could handle a jump in innings-pitched into the triple-digits. He’ll probably spend almost a full season in Low-A ball but he could get a taste of High-A action in an effort to prepare him for a full season in the potent California League in 2015.

Final Thoughts by Jason Churchill: Diaz falls into the give-him-water-and-food-and-watch-him-grow category, and he’ll need to continue to add good weight and refine his changeup to progress beyond the high minors, but the fastball-curveball combination are among the better ones in the system and the safe bet is that the Puerto Rico native is at least a dominant, late-inning reliever. There’s still a good chance he stays in the rotation, however, but there is a lot to learn and he’s likely three years from the big leagues, giving him plenty of time to study.

#8 Luiz Gohara | 55/R (P)
16 6 6 21.2 22 1 11.22 3.74 4.15 2.83
The Year in Review: The Dodgers’ young phenom Julio Urias made a lot of headlines by pitching in Low-A ball at the age of 16, but he wasn’t the only 16-year-old that was playing North American professional baseball in 2013. Gohara was pitching a few levels down in the advanced-rookie Appalachian League but the Brazilian arguably has a higher ceiling than the Mexican teenager. The Mariners southpaw prospect made just six starts during the 2013 season thanks to his battles with a persistent shoulder injury.

The Scouting Report: Gohara has an excellent feel for pitching for his age and experience level. The left-hander’s fastball works in the low 90s and his breaking ball has the makings of developing into a plus pitch. It’s been referred to as both a curveball and a slider, perhaps because he’s able to vary the speeds on the offering. His changeup needs the most work but it has its moments. Gohara should provide above-average command and control as he matures due to his smooth, repeatable delivery. To date, he’s done a nice job leveraging his height to create a downward angle on his offerings, which has produced above-average ground-ball rates.

The Year Ahead: Assuming he’s healthy, Gohara is talented enough to open the year in Low-A ball. The organization, though, is more likely to hold him back in extended spring training before deciding upon his ultimate destination for 2014. With just 21.2 innings thrown in 2013, he’s not likely to see a huge increase in his workload.

Final Thoughts by Jason Churchill: Gohara is projectable, strong and possesses very sound mechanics for a teenager, and the M’s are hoping the velocity comes as he matures as a pitcher — he’s already in the 220-pound range, so it’s not about filling out and growing physically. The southpaw has drawn rave reviews for his work ethic and mature approach, which bodes well for his future. He’s years from the big leagues, but should hit full-season ball in 2014.

#9 Chris Taylor | 50/AA (SS)
22 695 185 32 9 90 132 43 .312 .403 .452 .387
The Year in Review: You’d think the Mariners’ system would be devoid of any talented shortstop prospects after it graduated both Nick Franklin and Brad Miller to The Show in 2013… but you’d be wrong. Taylor, a two-year pro, was a teammate of Danny Hultzen’s at the University of Virginia and may soon pass him on the prospect depth chart if the talented lefty hurler cannot fully bounce back from shoulder surgery. Taylor, 22, saw time in both High-A and Double-A ball before hitting well in 18 Arizona Fall League games.

The Scouting Report: Taylor, 23, employs a quiet setup at the plate as well as a patient approach, which leads to high walk totals. He could stand to be quicker to the ball with bat, though, which would help him cut down on the strikeout totals that are high for a player with a modest power output. With a little more meat on his frame, he could hit for a more authority and turn some of his doubles and triples into home runs. Taylor has above-average speed and is a smart base runner who nabbed 38 bags in 43 attempts. Defensively, he’s an above-average shortstop with good range, soft hands and a strong arm, who has also seen time at second base. He should be able to handle either position at the big league level.

The Year Ahead: After a strong showing in the AFL, Taylor could be headed for an opening day assignment to Triple-A, although some more time in Double-A would not be the worst thing for his development. The young infielder still has some polish to add to his overall skill set but he could be in the Majors by the end of the 2014 season, which could be the start of a middle-infield logjam.

Final Thoughts by Jason Churchill: Taylor is an all-glove shortstop who is doing a great job at shoving that label up the backsides of clubs who passed on him for that reason. The hands and feet are terrific and Taylor’s arm strength grades out in average to above-average range, suggesting he’s at least a utility candidate in the majors. He’s made some swing adjustments in his quick ascent through the minors, but more are needed if he’s to hit for enough extra-base power to warrant any consideration for a long-term starting role. His patience and all-around plate skills are superb, but he will strike out, and that will be a challenge for him in Triple-A, which is where he’ll start 2014.

#10 Austin Wilson | 55/R (OF)
21 226 49 11 6 17 42 2 .241 .319 .414 .348
The Year in Review: Wilson was popped by the Mariners with the 49th overall selection in the 2013 amateur draft after a solid career at Stanford University. Assigned to the Northwest League, the athletic outfielder got off to a slow start through June and July. Wilson heated up in August and just missed hitting .300 for the month. He also hit five of his six home runs that month (21 games) while significantly improving his contact rate.

The Scouting Report: Wilson is the type of player that causes scouts to say, “He looks like a baseball player.” His best tools are his arm (plus), speed (above average) and his outfield defense (above average). His bat (fringe-average) and useable power (fringe-average) need the most work. Wilson’s frame hints at his raw power potential but he needs to improve his pitch recognition, shorten his swing, and generally become more consistent with his swing mechanics. Even if he doesn’t hit for a high average, Wilson should be an impact player in the outfield — most likely in right field — and at the plate if he taps into the power to his pull side.

The Year Ahead: Wilson is a little more raw than your typical highly-drafted player from the college ranks so it may behoove the organization to go easy on the talented prospect in his first full pro season. He should get his feet wet in Low-A ball but could force his way to High-A in the second half of the year. His MLB ETA is probably 2016, or possibly late 2015.

Final Thoughts by Jason Churchill: Wilson was an aim-high second-round draft pick last June and the Stanford product struggled mightily for the first half of his stint in the short-season Northwest League. That changed dramatically in late July when Wilson went on a tear, cutting down the strikeouts and adding regular power to the results. His swing still needs work, but he’s fixed the flat-bat and dead-hand start, and in the end is a solid bet to hit .260 with 25 home runs. He’s a big fella at more than 240 pounds, but he’s athletic and has a plus throwing arm that will fit nicely in right field at the Safe. He’s not on the fast track like Peterson, but the upside could warrant all-star consideration.

The Next Five:

11. Gabriel Guerrero, OF: The young Dominican outfielder doesn’t turn 20 until December but he performed well in full-season ball given his age. At the plate, the nephew of Vladimir Guerrero looks similar to his uncle. He often expands the zone, leading to low walk rates and high strikeout rates. His swing can get long but his above-average bat speeds helps him compensate.Guerrero hit just four home runs this past season but has above-average raw power.

12. Tyler Marlette, C: Marlette made huge strides behind the plate in 2013, which caused his prospect value to increase significantly. The 20-year-old Florida native is a strong hitter. He isn’t afraid to take the pitch where it’s offered and go the other way. He showed flashes of his raw power potential in ’13but needs to be a little more selective to continue having success as he reaches the upper levels of the minors.

13. Julio Morban, OF: Drafted out of the Dominican Republic as a highly-regarded amateur, Morban’s development has been slowed somewhat by injuries and he played in a career-high 86 games in 2013. His open stance resembles a left-handed-hitting Tony Batista. The young hitter has above-average bat speed that helps him get to pitches on the outer half of the plate and it allows him to produce power to all fields.

14. Patrick Kivlehan, 3B: A senior sign out of Rutgers University, the 23-year-old hitter has hit more than .300 in his two pro seasons which is impressive given that he barely played baseball in college, thanks to a focus on football. He still has some rough edges around his game and he’s still looking to tap into his power potential. He’s been playing third base exclusively but may eventually move to first base or a corner outfield position.

15: Ketel Marte, SS: Marte recently turned 20 and had a solid full-season debut in the Midwest League where he showed the potential to develop into a solid No.2 hole hitter. He handled the bat well as a teenager in 2013 and made above-average contact, even though it negatively impacted his walk rate. He also needs to let poor pitches go by without offering at them. The switch-hitter has good actions in the field but makes a lot of youthful mistakes.

2014 Top 10 Prospects: Miami Marlins.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Marlins organization boasts impressive pitching talent, as well as some up-and-coming hitting prospects. Three members of the Top 10 came from the 2012 blockbuster trade with Toronto, while a waiver claim from that same organization found his way into the 15th slot. Some strong drafting in the past couple of years has also helped improve the organizational depth.

#1 Andrew Heaney | 65/AA (P)
22 25 24 120.0 91 4 8.25 2.48 1.65 2.77
The Year in Review: Heaney, 22, dominated high-A ball with a 0.88 ERA in 61.2 innings before moving up to Double-A where he pitched another 33.2 innings. The left-hander pitched fewer than 100 inning during the regular season because he began the year on the disabled list (lat strain) but he’s made up for it with a trip to the Arizona Fall League.

The Scouting Report: Heaney combines polish, above-average control/command and solid stuff. He throws three pitches — 89-93 mph fastball, slider, changeup — for strikes and his breaking ball serves as his out-pitch. The southpaw needs to polish areas such as game/pitch tempo and controlling the running game. A contact I spoke with felt Heaney may add some velocity to his heater as he physically matures.

The Year Ahead: Heaney cruised through High-A and Double-A during the regular season and then posted an ERA below 2.00 in six AFL starts. As a result, he could be assigned to Triple-A to open the 2014 season. Miami’s front office proved that it’s not afraid to be aggressive with young hurlers (see Jose Fernandez) so Heaney has an outside shot at breaking camp with the Marlins.

The Career Outlook: Heaney can’t match Fernandez’s ceiling but he could develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter as a solid opposite-handed complement to the talented Cuban. The organization has compiled an impressive group of young arms so hopefully ownership will allow the front office to build a championship-calibre team around them.

#2 Jake Marisnick | 60/MLB (OF)
22 118 5.1 % 22.9 % .183 .231 .248 .216 29 -8.3 2.9 -0.2
The Year in Review: Marisnick produced solid — but unspectacular — numbers in Double to earn his first taste of big league action. It’s been long expected that his last skill to develop would be his hit tool and that proved true when he hit just .183 with a .478 OPS in 40 MLB games. His season was bookended by injuries (broken hand, torn knee ligament).

The Scouting Report: Marisnick already flashes three plus tools: center-field defense, arm strength and speed, although he doesn’t run a ton. His power isn’t far off from developing into a plus skill but it’s not yet fully developed. Contact issues continue to limit Marisnick’s offensive ceiling, and his lack of patience at times is also an issue.

The Year Ahead: As alluded to above, Marisnick needs more seasoning at the plate so he’s likely to open 2014 back in the minors at the Triple-A level. Ideally, he could probably use a full season at that level before receiving another shot at The Show. It will probably be a few years before he’s a true, consistent threat at the plate.

The Career Outlook: Marisnick has five-tool potential but he could be an impact player even if only four of his skills develop into plus attributes and the hit remains fringe-average. At worst, he’ll be a best friend to all the fly-ball-friendly hurlers on the Miami pitching staff.

#3 Justin Nicolino | 60/AA (P)
21 27 27 142.0 152 6 6.02 1.90 3.11 3.13
The Year in Review: After coming over to Miami from Toronto during the offseason, Nicolino breezed through High-A and earned a late-season promotion to Double-A. At the higher level the lefty struggled with his command and was hit around a bit. He set a career high in games started and innings pitched so exhaustion may have played a role in the struggles.

The Scouting Report: Like a lot of the Marlins’ pitching prospects, Nicolino isn’t flashy but he gets the most out of his stuff and shows an advanced approach. He has an average fastball for a lefty, in terms of velocity, but the pitch plays up because of his above-average command and control. The plus changeup is his out-pitch and his curveball could become above-average in time. A contact I spoke to said Nicolino approaches hitters with a plan and gets hitters off balance by effectively changing speeds.

The Year Ahead: Nicolino, soon to turn 22, could probably slot into the back-end of the Marlins’ rotation right now but some additional seasoning certainly wouldn’t hurt. To succeed in The Show, I was told that Nicolino simply needs to trust his stuff and continue to attack the zone. Look for the Florida native to arrive in Miami by mid-2014.

The Career Outlook: The southpaw has a chance to develop into a No. 3 or 4 starter at the big league level. He’ll probably never develop into a star but the young pitcher should be a solid two- or three-win pitcher.

#4 Colin Moran | 60/A- (3B)
20 270 64 11 4 27 41 1 .270 .341 .376 .335
The Year in Review: The Marlins selected Moran sixth overall in the 2013 draft out of the University of North Carolina and he took to pro ball like a fish to water. The third baseman just missed hitting .300 in Low-A ball while making above-average contact. After the season, he was assigned to the Arizona Fall League where he struggled with the stick after a long year split between college and pro ball.

The Scouting Report: Moran projects to have a plus hit tool at the big league level but there are significant concerns about the lack of raw power given the production expectations at the hot corner. A left-handed batter, Moran struggles against same-side pitching at times and has work to do in that area. Defensively, he should develop into an average or better defender at the hot corner once he improves his first-step quickness and overall footwork.

The Year Ahead: Moran’s struggles in the AFL could help solidify the case for him to begin 2014 in High-A ball. If he gets off to a quick start, though, he could see a swift promotion to Double-A. The club won’t want the likes of Ed Lucas and Chris Coghlan holding down the hot corner for long.

The Career Outlook: The last time the Marlins drafted a third baseman in the first round it was Matt Dominguez (2007), who is now with the Houston Astros, and Moran has a good chance to have a much larger impact in Miami. Despite his lofty draft status, the young hitter projects as more of a solid-average big league third baseman rather than a perennial all-star or superstar — unless he suddenly taps into some previously unseen power reserve.

#5 Adam Conley | 55/AA (P)
23 26 25 138.2 125 7 8.37 2.40 3.25 2.95
The Year in Review: Conley got off to a bit of a slow start in 2013 but he made some quick adjustments and settled in nicely to make 26 appearances (25 starts) at the Double-A level. His secondary stuff improved, which allowed him to equally combat both right- and left-handed batters. The southpaw finished the season with two runs of fewer allowed in nine of his final 10 starts.

The Scouting Report: A former second round draft pick from 2011, Conley has moved swiftly through the system based on his solid control, average-or-better fastball, and plus changeup. His slider has been an issue in the past but it improved enough to now project as an average to above-average offering — but it will probably fall short of a plus offering. He has the frame necessary to provide 200+ innings per year. To realize his full potential, though, he’ll need to become more consistent with his fastball command.

The Year Ahead: After a solid season in Double-A, Conley should move up to Triple-A in 2014. He probably doesn’t need another full season in the minors so the lefty could surface in The Show by July.

The Career Outlook: Conley has a chance to settle in as a No. 3 or 4 starter at the big league level. He also has a chance to be a pretty good late-game reliever with his fastball possibly jumping into the mid-90s.

#6 Anthony DeSclafani | 55/AA (P)
23 25 25 129.0 122 10 8.02 1.60 2.65 3.08
The Year in Review: DeSclafani was the little-known name in the blockbuster trade that saw Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle (as well as others) head to Toronto in exchange for a collection of intriguing young players. Miami was well acquainted with the right-hander from his amateur days as he attended the University of Florida. In 2013, his first season with The Fish, DeSclafani split the year between High-A and Double-A with solid numbers at both levels.

The Scouting Report: DeSclafani entered pro ball as a reliever and a repertoire that relied almost solely on his 89-94 mph heater. He quickly found himself in a starting role as a pro and made strides with his slider in 2013, which helped him find success in his new role. His changeup continues to lag behind and it will be a critical element if he wants to stick in the starting rotation. DeSclafani has above-average control, improving command and induces a lot of ground-ball outs. He’s known for having excellent mound makeup that helps him get the most out of his abilities.

The Year Ahead: The young pitcher had 13 solid starts in Double-A but needs better command of his fastball in the strike zone, which could necessitate a return to same level to begin 2014. With a quick start, though, he could see Triple-A before long. There is a lot of pitching depth around him so DeSclafani may not see the Majors until 2015.

The Career Outlook: When DeSclafani was drafted, I thought he was a sure-fire future reliever. He’s made significant strides as a starter, though, and now looks like a future No. 3 or 4 starter. If he can’t break through the young pitching depth, though, he could end up as a seventh- or eighth-inning reliever.

#7 Brian Flynn | 50/MLB (P)
23 18.0 7.50 6.50 37.9 % 8.50 6.44 4.84 -0.6 -0.3
The Year in Review: Flynn had a lot of success in his first full season in the Marlins’ system. He opened the year in Double-A but spent much of the season in Triple-A before making four big league starts. He got hit around in The Show with 27 hits and 13 walks in 18 innings.

The Scouting Report: Flynn, 23, is a big strong dude that struggles to keep his long levers in check at times, which hurts both his command and control. He has good stuff for a lefty to an 88-93 mph fastball and a slider that projects to develop into an above-average pitch. Both his curveball and changeup need work to become average offerings. Flynn has compiled more than 300 innings over the past two seasons and should be good for a lot of innings in the back-end of a big-league rotation.

The Year Ahead: The former Tigers prospect currently stands to open the 2014 season as the No. 4 or 5 starter in the Marlins’ starting rotation. He’ll have to stay on his game, though, to hold off the likes of Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino, and Adam Conley.

The Career Outlook: Flynn looks like a future back-end starter who will provide a ton of innings despite his modest ceiling. He’ll probably never become a household name but he has the stuff to carve out a respectable career.

#8 J.T. Realmuto | 50/AA (C)
22 416 88 21 5 36 68 9 .239 .310 .353 .308
The Year in Review: The young catcher had a strong defensive season — including nabbing 34% of base stealers — but his bat wilted at the Double-A level. The good news is that he made solid contact so he’s not completely hopeless at the plate and has the raw skill and drive to get better with a tweaked approach.

The Scouting Report: Realmuto didn’t become a full-time catcher until he turned pro in 2010, which speaks to his athletic ability. He quickly picked up the nuances of the position and projects to be be an above-average defender behind the dish. Realmuto’s offence has dropped off in the past two seasons and he looks like a future fringe-average to average hitter at the position. He doesn’t create a ton of loft with his swing so don’t expect much more than eight to 10 homers from him in a full season.

The Year Ahead: Realmuto, 22, hit below .240 at the Double-A level in 2013 but he’ll likely move up to Triple-A to begin the 2014 season. After Rob Brantly’s struggles last season, the starting role at the big league level is wide open. Realmuto could be in the Majors before the all-star break, even though his bat probably won’t be ready.

The Career Outlook: If the left-handed hitting Brantly’s bat picks back up, he and Realmuto could form a solid platoon. Ideally, though, the latter catcher will look to provide enough offence to take over the full-time role.

#9 Jose Urena | 55/A+ (P)
21 27 26 149.2 148 8 6.43 1.74 3.73 3.17
The Year in Review: Urena spent the entire 2013 season in High-A ball. He pitched a career-high 149.2 innings but didn’t miss as many bats as he should have given his mid-90s velocity and potentially-plus changeup.

The Scouting Report: Urena could carve out a big-league career on the strength of his fastball/changeup combination but an improved slider could really help make a difference in his projected ceiling. He has above-average control for his age and decent command of his offerings. The right-hander has a slender frame but he’s been durable and has compiled more than 280 innings over the past two seasons.

The Year Ahead: The 2014 season should be a strong indicator of Urena’s future role: starter or reliever. He’ll move up to Double-A where the more advanced hitters are more likely to beat up pitchers with so-so breaking balls, and it’s not as uncommon to find hurlers that can consistently throw strikes.

The Career Outlook: Urena, 22, ranked further down on this list because I see him as a future high-leverage reliever and don’t expect him to stick as a starter. His strong fastball/changeup pairing could make him a solid eighth-inning reliever in Miami.

#10 Avery Romero | 55/A- (2B)
20 275 67 19 3 19 39 3 .276 .341 .391 .344
The Year in Review: Romero opened the 2013 in extended spring training to continue working on his defense and was assigned to the New York Penn League in June, spending his second straight season in short-season ball. He just missed hitting .300 before moving up for a late-season (nine-game) taste of A-ball.

The Scouting Report: Romero continues to impress the Marlins front office with his conversion from the left side of the infield to second base. He projects to develop into an above-average fielder at the keystone. At the plate, he shows an aptitude for making contact. The young hitter showed some impressive gap power in 2013. Romero, 20, probably won’t hit for a ton of over-the-fence power but he could provide 10 to 15 home runs and 30 to 40 doubles in a full season, which would be a very good output for a second baseman.

The Year Ahead: Romero should open the year in full-season ball. The organization was quite patient with him during his first two seasons in pro ball but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him play at both A-ball levels in 2014 if he continues to make strides at second base.

The Career Outlook: Romero has a chance to be a very good offensive-minded second baseman who could eventually become above-average at second base. Don’t be surprised if he eventually becomes an all-star.

The Next Five:

Trevor Williams, RHP: The 44th overall selection from the 2013 draft, Williams has a big, strong durable frame that should allow him to provide tons of innings out of a big league rotation. The right-hander has solid stuff, including an above-average fastball and two breaking balls. He produced above-average ground-ball rates in his debut but hitters get a good look at the ball coming out of his hand so he doesn’t miss as many bats as his stuff suggests he should.

Colby Suggs, RHP: The 22-year-old Suggs was another high draft pick from 2013 that had a solid debut. He played at three levels during the regular season, topping out in High-A ball, and then headed off to the Arizona Fall League in October. His power fastball (93-98 mph) and above-average breaking ball give him a shot at becoming a high-leverage reliever but his command issues could keep him from closing out ball games.

Austin Brice, RHP: Brice is the type of pitching prospect that you can really dream on. He has an excellent pitcher’s frame and solid stuff but his lack of command and control continues to hamper him as he navigates through the low levels of the minors. His numbers actually got worse while repeating Low-A in 2013 while he struggled to replicate his arm slot. If things click for Brice, he could develop into a mid-rotation starter. If not, he may have to move into a middle or long relief role.

Austin Barnes, 2B/C: A personal favorite of mine, Barnes competently plays two key up-the-middle positions and his ability to catch would give a big league manager — especially in the National League — a ton of options to play with. Barnes doesn’t possess much power but he does a nice job of making contact and a strong eye helps beef up his on-base percentage. He has an outside shot at reaching the Majors in 2014.

Sam Dyson, RHP: Dyson is not the type of talent you typically find on the waiver wire but Toronto faced a roster crunch and lost him to The Fish. The right-hander has an excellent fastball and it plays up due to its incredible sinking action. His second-best offering is a changeup. His little-used slider also shows a lot of potential but he needs to be encouraged to use it more often. Dyson has been both a starter and a reliever but his future likely lies in the ‘pen.

2014 Top 10 Prospects: Chicago White Sox.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In terms of high-ceiling talent and depth, the White Sox minor league system has been a bottom-feeder for a while now as former General Manager Kenny Williams focused on improving the big-league product through free agency and via the trade route, oftening flipping multi-prospect packages for veterans. The club also had unprecedented bad luck with first round draft picks for an 18-year stretch, beginning in 1991 — right after four amazing years that saw the club nab Jack McDowell, Robin Ventura, Frank Thomas, and Alex Fernandez.

Undetered, though, members of both the player development and scouting staffs worked diligiently to infuse the system with new talent and polish existing skills. The hard work is beginning to pay off and the Sox now boast an up-and-coming system.

#1 Erik Johnson | 55/MLB (P)
23 27.2 5.86 3.58 46.4 % 3.25 5.40 4.73 0.1 -0.1
The Year in Review: Johnson, 23, made 29 starts across three levels of organized ball in 2013 and solidified his standing as the top prospect in the Sox system. He opened the year in Double-A and then made a stop in Triple-A before he finished the year with five starts in the Majors. In total, he was just shy of the 170-inning mark — a significant increase over the 92.1 innings he pitched in 2012.

The Scouting Report: A former second round draft pick (2011), Johnson has a strong, durable frame that should allow him to pitch more than 200 innings on an annual basis in the Majors. He works comfortably in the low-90s with his fastball and backs that up with two breaking balls. His slider is a step ahead of the curveball at this point and his changeup is a distant fourth pitch.

The Year Ahead: The White Sox could feature one of the youngest starting pitching staffs in the American League in 2014 and Johnson’s strong finish to the ’13 campaign should bathe him in a favorable light at the beginning of spring training. He could, in fact, open the year as the club’s No. 3 or 4 starter, depending on how the front office approaches the offseason free agent and trade markets.

Career Outlook: As mentioned, Johnson has all the makings of an innings-eater and should top out as a solid, but unspectacular, mid-rotation starter. The club should get plenty of use out of the hurler into his late 20s and during his peak seasons.

The Quote: “Fastball command is essential in pitching with success at the Major League level. If he masters that, he will be a good one.”

#2 Courtney Hawkins | 55/A+ (OF)
19 425 68 16 19 29 160 10 .178 .249 .384 .288
The Year in Review: The organization was shockingly aggressive with the first pick of the 2012 draft by assigning him to High-A ball in April despite the fact he was still a teenager (19) with just 59 games of pro experience. Things went horribly wrong for Hawkins and he hit just .178 with 160 strikeouts (and just 29 walks) in 103 games. He was overmatched in just about every aspect of the game.

The Scouting Report: Hawkins has decent maturity for his age and good makeup, which helps give him a chance to bounce back from the dismal showing in 2013. He may never produce high batting averages but his above-average bat speed should allow him to cut down on his swing and still produce enough power to produce .200+ isolated slugging rates at the Major League level. The young hitter is athletic for his size (6-3, 220), can hold his own at all three outfield positions and possesses plus arm strength.

The Year Ahead: Hawkins needs an opportunity to get his feet back under him and that should necessitate a return engagement to High-A ball as a demotion to Low-A could damage the psyche even further. The inexperienced hitter needs a chance to improve his pitch recognition and adjust his approach. Expect him to spend the entire season in A-ball and the production of league-average numbers would be considered a huge improvement.

Career Outlook: The struggles from 2013 have definitely slowed down Hawkins’ timetable and he likely won’t reach the Majors until late 2016 at the earliest. He still has a chance to be an impact bat at the big league level but young players such as Avisail Garcia and potential veteran imports will have to keep the young hitter’s right-field spot warm.

The Quote: “Once he shortens his swing and learns to use the hole field, I think we will have something special. He has a tremendous upside just because of his offensive potential.”

#3 Jose Dariel Abreu | 60/DNP
The Year in Review: Abreu didn’t spend much time on the field but he had an eventful year nonetheless. The well-documented success of Cuban import Yasiel Puig in Los Angeles blew up the market which allowed Abreu to secure a six-year, $68 million Major League contract. He joins a growing Cuban contingent in the Chicago clubhouse.

The Scouting Report: Much like with Puig, reports and opinions on Abreu are all over the map although he was more accessible to the scouting community. He generates plus, right-handed pop to all fields thanks to his strong frame but he’ll have to prove his aptitude for hitting the curveball and staying back on off-speed pitches. Defensively, he’s considered a decent fielder around the first base bag.

The Year Ahead: I’m told by a contact that Abreu is viewed by the Sox as an MLB-ready player. As such, the hope is that he’ll join fellow Cuban natives Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo in the regular lineup, taking over first base for veteran Paul Konerko who has spent the past 15 seasons playing for the Sox.

Career Outlook: Scouting Cuban defectors is by no means an exact science and it will be some time before we have a good grasp on Abreu’s true talent level. His power tool is considered to be plus but he lacks another eye-catching tool.

#4 Marcus Semien | 55/MLB (3B)
22 71 1.4 % 31.0 % .261 .268 .406 .291 77 -2.8 1.5 0.1
The Year in Review: Semien opened the 2013 season in near obscurity but he finished the year on the tips of the tongues of many White Sox fans. The prospect opened the year with no experience above A-ball but he finished the year in the Sox’s Major League lineup. He appeared in 158 games during the regular season — split between the Majors and the minors — but was then curiously assigned to the Arizona Fall League where he played regularly and struggled with the bat.

The Scouting Report: Semien doesn’t have loud tools but he does a little bit of everything. He hits for a solid average, has an excellent eye and has above-average speed paired with strong base-running instincts. He utilizes a nice swing and is quick to the ball with a short stroke that generates surprising pop. On defense, Semien shows solid actions but his average range and arm may be a bit shy for shortstop making second base a more realistic option.

The Year Ahead: Semien could supplant disappointing second base incumbent Gordon Beckham in 2014. The White Sox have some interesting middle infield prospects so it will be important for the young athlete to get a quick start out of the gate.

Career Outlook: The California native has a chance to be an average or better middle infielder. But there is also a chance that he’ll slide into a utility or platoon role, and a contact I spoke with lauded Semien’s versatility which makes the rookie all the more valuable to the Sox.

#5 Chris Beck | 55/AA (P)
22 26 26 146.2 143 11 4.85 2.76 3.07 4.14
The Year in Review: Beck, 23, opened the season in High-A ball but finished the season with five starts at the Double-A level. Hitters put a lot of balls in play against the right-hander but they had a difficult time getting it into the air. He’ll need to miss more bats (4.32 K/9 in High-A) if he’s going to take his game to the next level.

The Scouting Report: The 76th overall selection out of Georgia Southern in the 2012 amateur draft, Beck isn’t flashy but he’s durable and he gets the job done. He’s a pitch-to-contact guy that produces above-average ground-ball rates and he allowed just 11 home runs in 2013. He attacks the strike zone with a low-90s fastball and backs it up with a cutter and a changeup — both of which show flashes of becoming reliable offerings. His control is currently ahead of his command.

The Year Ahead: Beck should return to Double-A in 2014 and could see the Majors by the end of the season thanks to the unreliability of young pitching (which is expected to dominate the Sox’s rotation in the coming year). Truth be told, though, he likely won’t have a significant impact in The Show until 2015.

Career Outlook: If Beck finds a way to become more consistent with the command of his secondary offerings, he could develop into a No. 2 or 3 stater. As it stands, though, he looks more like a No. 3 or 4 innings-eater — which is still nothing to sneeze at.

#6 Tim Anderson | 55/A- (SS)
20 301 74 10 1 23 78 24 .277 .348 .363 .335
The Year in Review: Anderson was selected in the first round of the 2013 amateur draft by the Sox with the 17th overall selection. The junior college player was the third middle infielder selected, behind Hunter Dozier (Kansas City) and J.P. Crawford (Philadelphia). He held his own with an aggressive assignment to Low-A ball and showed off his plus speed with 24 steals in 28 attempts but he also struck out 78 times in 68 games.

The Scouting Report: Anderson swings and misses too much for a hitter that projects to be a top-of-the-order catalyst but he has just enough raw power potential to mess with his head. His quick bat and fleet feet should help him hit for a solid average if he makes the necessary adjustments alluded to in the previous sentence. Anderson’s speed could allow him to swipe 50+ bases in a single, healthy season. His defense at shortstop is a question mark due to modest arm strength but he could make his way to second base or even centre field.

The Year Ahead: The young shortstop should move up to High-A ball to open 2014 and could spend most of the season there while he works to make more consistent contact. He’ll also look to prove that he can handle shortstop on an ongoing basis. There is no rush for Anderson to develop thanks to the presence of big league incumbent shortstop Alexei Ramirez and fellow prospect Marcus Semien ahead of him.

Career Outlook: Anderson, 20, has a solid chance to at least develop into a second-division starter, if not a future all-star if he can see the hit tool jump a grade. His future projection should look a little clearer once the infield prospect spends a full season in professional baseball.

#7 Micah Johnson | 50/AA (2B)
22 630 175 27 7 53 103 87 .312 .373 .455 .379
The Year in Review: The stolen base numbers jump out at you immediately: 84 swipes in 110 attempts. His overall numbers were also quite impressive in Low-A ball but, at 22, he was old for the league. His statistics in High-A and Double-A were less impressive.

The Scouting Report: With power becoming more scarce in the Majors, speed is a more valuable asset and Johnson is one of the better swift-footed prospects in the minors. He’s not the fastest runner but his wheels are well-above-average and he’s a heady player, which helps him get the most out of his tool. He projects to develop into at least an average hitter for second base with a chance to be above-average. Defensively, his lack of reliable hands at the keystone could eventually push him out of the dirt and into centre field.

The Year Ahead: After a three-level sojourn in 2013, Johnson will likely spend much of the season in Double-A. He’ll look to get on base at a high clip more consistently, which will allow him to take advantage of his greatest asset – his speed. There are a number of middle infield prospects ahead of him, including Marcus Semien and Carlos Sanchez, so he should have plenty of time to polish the rougher aspects of his game.

Career Outlook: Johnson, a ninth round draft pick in 2012 out of Indiana University, could end up being a steal. As long as he keeps running he looks like a future regular either at second base or center field. If he can continue to make consistent contact and get on base at a solid clip he should profile well at the top of the lineup.

#8 Trayce Thompson | 50/AA (OF)
22 590 116 23 15 60 139 25 .229 .321 .383 .328
The Year in Review: Once again, Thompson failed to translate his raw (and intriguing) tools into regular success at the plate. After playing at four levels in 2012 (including the Arizona Fall League), the young outfielder spent the entire year at Double-A. He hit just .229 and struck out 139 times in 135 games.

The Scouting Report: Thompson has three above-average tools in his power, speed, and center-field defense, which is why he continues to figure prominently on top prospects lists despite disappointing numbers. His hit tool is currently below-average, he needs to improve his pitch recognition and be more consistent with his swing, which can get long. One contact I spoke to called him the best defensive outfielder in the system.

The Year Ahead: A third trip to Double-A seems in order after his disappointing 2013 season. The good news is that he’s still just 22 years old and has three option seasons remaining. Thompson needs to make more contact and just be more consistent from game to game.

Career Outlook: It’s hard to give up on the tools that Thompson possesses so he’ll continue to get plenty of opportunities to make everything click. Right now, though, it’s hard to envision him becoming an all-star-calibre player and he looks more like a future second-division starter who will produce a low batting average but with some 15-15 or 20-20 (HR-SB) seasons in toe.

The Quote: “He still has a chance to be an impact player… He needs to learn his strength as a hitter and quit giving in to pitchers by swinging at pitches out of his zone.”

#9 Scott Snodgress | 50/AA (P)
23 26 26 143.2 146 9 5.64 3.70 4.70 4.08
The Year in Review: Snodgress saw his strikeout rate drop three Ks per nine innings in 2013 after he made the traditionally-difficult jump from A-ball to Double-A. Despite his height advantage, his previously-impressive ground-ball rate dipped to average levels. On the plus side, the 6-6 southpaw continued to showcase his durability to 26 starts and 143.2 innings of work.

The Scouting Report: The Stanford alum has a fastball but it looks even more imposing than it is thanks to his height and long arms. He’s going to have to utilize his height better to induce a higher number of ground balls if he’s going to be more of a pitch-to-contact pitcher. His command took a step backward in 2013 and he still needs to improve both his curveball and his changeup. A contact I spoke with felt that, with enough time, both his secondary pitches could become plus offerings.

The Year Ahead: A strong spring training could help push Snodgress to Triple-A but he may need to head back to Double-A for a couple of months. The 24-year-old lefty has just three pro seasons under his belt so he doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2014 season and may not make his MLB debut until 2015.

Career Outlook: A rough 2013 season has tempered the enthusiasm around Snodgress and he may top out as an innings-eating No. 4 starter. The Sox could also entertain the thought of moving him to the bullpen where he could abandon his so-so changeup and look to add a couple ticks to his fastball in shorter stints.

#10 Danny Webb | 50/MLB (P)
23 11.1 7.94 3.18 56.3 % 3.18 2.34 3.19 0.2 0.2
The Year in Review: The Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays have matched up for a few deals in recent years. The Nestor Molina acquisition (for Sergio Santos) hasn’t gone as well as hoped but the combined loot of Webb and Myles Jaye (for Jason Frasor) could end up working out quite well. Webb, a right-hander, opened 2013 in A-ball but played at four levels and finished the season in the Majors.

The Scouting Report: Formerly a starter, Webb saw his value increase with a move to the bullpen where he improved his fastball command and his average velocity sat more firmly in the 95 mph range. He also possesses both a slider and a changeup, with the former offering being a little more developed at this point.

The Year Ahead: The White Sox have some young(-ish) pitchers established in the backend of the bullpen in Addison Reed and Nate Jones but the club loves its hard-throwing relievers so Webb has a great shot at breaking camp in the Majors. Relievers are volatile by nature and the young reliever will have to prove that his improved fastball command will stick, if not continue to improve even further.

Career Outlook: In his current state, Webb possesses the necessary pieces to develop into a high-leverage set-up man. With increased experience and some polish, he has a chance to develop into a shut-down closer. The Sox got an excellent return in their 2012 trade for veteran middle reliever Jason Frasor.

The Next Five:

11. Chris Bassitt, RHP: Bassitt became a full-time starter in 2013, his third pro season, and showed his durability by bumping his innings total to 149, more than 50 innings above his 2012 total. He’s not flashy but he could settle in as a solid No. 4 starter; Bassitt is in danger of rough numbers against left-handed hitters due to his low arm slot but he does a nice job of getting on top of his curveball that shows a solid 12-6 break.

12. Tyler Danish, RHP: The 55th overall selection in the 2013 amateur draft out of a Florida high school, Danish flashes good stuff with a low-90s sinker, potentially-plus slider and solid changeup. However, his future appears to be in the bullpen due to his modest frame and high-effort delivery.

13. Andrew Mitchell, RHP: This Texas Christian University alum isn’t as polished as a lot of high draft picks out of college but you can’t ignore his stuff. He shows mid-90s velocity and an above-average breaking ball as a starter. His numbers were modest in his pro debut due to his lack of command and control, as well as a reliable third pitch being MIA.

14. Carlos Sanchez, 2B: I had high hopes for Sanchez when the year began but he stumbled at the Triple-A level and is in danger of getting forgotten on the depth chart behind fellow middle-infield prospects Marcus Semien, Micah Johnson, and Leury Garcia. He needs to rediscover his above-average hit tool.

15. Adam Engel, OF: One of the better mid-round draft picks from 2013 (19th round), Engel left behind a disappointing college season and improved significantly as a pro. He possesses at least three plus tools in his speed, center-field defense and arm. If he continues to hit like he did in his debut, Engel could add a fourth above-average tool to his resume.
post #19119 of 73002
Originally Posted by 651akathePaul View Post

Felix, Price, Kuma, Walker, Paxton. pimp.gif

I don't care who's in the lineup...That rotation gives a team a chance to win every single night.

Don't see any way to get Price without Walker.

post #19120 of 73002
Thread Starter 

And if they don't get Walker (or I've heard Cleveland so Salazar), keep him.

post #19121 of 73002
Shin Soo Choo turned down an offer of 7 years $140 million from the Yankees eek.gif
post #19122 of 73002
Originally Posted by madj55 View Post

Shin Soo Choo turned down an offer of 7 years $140 million from the Yankees eek.gif

i don't know who looks worse here…Choo or the Yankees laugh.gif
Boston Bruins | New England Patriots | Boston Red Sox | Georgetown Hoyas | Michigan Wolverines |
Arsenal FC | Huevos Rancheros Hockey | USMNT
Boston Bruins | New England Patriots | Boston Red Sox | Georgetown Hoyas | Michigan Wolverines |
Arsenal FC | Huevos Rancheros Hockey | USMNT
post #19123 of 73002
Thread Starter 

8o where'd you hear that?  HAD to be before Ellsbury or they're ******g stupid :lol 

post #19124 of 73002
Jeff Passan just tweeted it, and he says the contract was offered after Ellsbury

"Superagent Scott Boras does some of his finest work in the latter stages of free agency. And in the case of Shin-Soo Choo, he faces yet another challenge in a career built on slaying them: find Choo a contract for the $140 million the New York Yankees offered him even after they signed Jacoby Ellsbury.
In the aftermath of Robinson Cano's defection to Seattle, New York presented Choo a seven-year, $140 million deal, three sources outside the Yankees' organization told Yahoo Sports. When Boras countered asking for more money – one source indicated he wanted "Ellsbury money," or $153 million over seven years – the Yankees pulled the offer and signed Carlos Beltran to a three-year, $45 million deal."
post #19125 of 73002
Thread Starter 

Wow :lol there's no excuse for that unless they had a trade in place for Gardner.

post #19126 of 73002

Choo is an idiot if that's true.

post #19127 of 73002
Thread Starter 

I still lean that it's not true...but I guess he really wants that 8th year.

post #19128 of 73002
So they were gonna pay these two dudes $293M combined while they couldn't meet their best player in the middle at $190M....maybe I'm missing something, but I don't understand that logic.
post #19129 of 73002

$190M wasn't gonna get it done for Robbie anyways.

post #19130 of 73002
Well, that clears it up for me then laugh.gif
post #19131 of 73002
Thread Starter 

The only thing that was getting it done for Robbie unfortunately was 10 years.


I still think he ends up in Detroit or Texas eventually...might drag out a bit with this new kid from Cuba defecting.


Free agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo has not yet found a fit for 2014, and part of the problem has been the loss of a draft pick that comes with signing him. Another stumbling block to a deal has been his contract demands, as it's believed that Choo is looking for an eight-year deal. 

Now here comes another fly in the ointment. Ben Badler of Baseball America reports that Rusney Castillo, "a 26-year-old center fielder who had been one of the top players in Cuba", has defected in an effort to eventually find a job with a team in the United States. 

There are still several steps for Castillo to take before teams can start the bidding for his services, as he first must establish residency in another country, and then be cleared to play by the United States government. That process could presumably be completed before the start of the 2014 season, but perhaps not until spring training games have already gotten under way. 

So what does this have to do with Choo? Well, teams that were pondering a Choo signing might now be tempted to wait for Castillo to save money and a draft pick, not to mention they would avoid committing long-term to a player who will turn 31 in July. At the very least, there's now an "alternative" to Choo, which may force the outfielder to lower his asking price significantly. 

Castillo might not have anything close to Choo's upside, especially in the short term, but he profiles as a pretty good player. Here's how Badler describes Castillo's skill set: "Castillo is short but has a strong, athletic frame at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds. His best tool is his speed, as he's an above-average runner and one of the better base stealers in Cuba. More of a doubles hitter than a big home run threat, Castillo puts a charge into the ball with a line-drive right-handed swing. 

"Primarily a center fielder in Cuba, Castillo has also played some second and third base, so his versatility could be a draw for some teams. He’s an aggressive, high-energy player, though some teams view him as a fourth outfielder."
post #19132 of 73002
Boras is that dude, getting money for his clients. Regardless how you feel about him, he does his job and he does it well.
post #19133 of 73002
Choo knows he wants to come to seattle smokin.gif
Were the next Marlins/Blue jays
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Go Hawks, Mariners, Ducks
PSN: Aiinatural
Go Hawks, Mariners, Ducks
post #19134 of 73002
Choo goofed, but I'm glad that signing didn't go down for those years/that price.

Beltran for 3 should be sufficient, and then some.
New York Yankees | New York Jets
New York Yankees | New York Jets
post #19135 of 73002
Originally Posted by madj55 View Post

Shin Soo Choo turned down an offer of 7 years $140 million from the Yankees eek.gif

post #19136 of 73002
Originally Posted by madj55 View Post

Jeff Passan just tweeted it, and he says the contract was offered after Ellsbury

"Superagent Scott Boras does some of his finest work in the latter stages of free agency. And in the case of Shin-Soo Choo, he faces yet another challenge in a career built on slaying them: find Choo a contract for the $140 million the New York Yankees offered him even after they signed Jacoby Ellsbury.
In the aftermath of Robinson Cano's defection to Seattle, New York presented Choo a seven-year, $140 million deal, three sources outside the Yankees' organization told Yahoo Sports. When Boras countered asking for more money – one source indicated he wanted "Ellsbury money," or $153 million over seven years – the Yankees pulled the offer and signed Carlos Beltran to a three-year, $45 million deal."

so he blew his deal for $13 mil...would have loved to be a fly on the wall when Boras told Choo that the Yankees pulled the deal
post #19137 of 73002
Choo is one of the most humble, unassuming athletes at his talent level ever. This is surely all Boras' doing.
post #19138 of 73002
Heyman said that was a rumor and could be true. He also said we offered Beltran a deal first and if he didn't agree, then we would get Choo.

Who knows if it's true or not but I'm happy we didn't get him.
post #19139 of 73002

Lough :(




post #19140 of 73002
Jenny Dell ‏@JennyDellNESN 1m
OFFICIAL: #RedSox acquired INF Jonathan Herrera from Colorado in exchange for LHP Franklin Morales and minor league RHP Chris Martin.
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