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While some of the top prospects in the minor leagues are outfielders, there is a lack of elite outfield prospects past the top two. Much of the value of Hamilton, Springer and Bradley comes from their proximity to the major leagues, while Dahl, Polanco and Frazier could be the best players on this list after Buxton and Taveras. The potential of Starling and Brinson are sky-high, but poor pitch recognition and swing-and-miss concerns may doom them into a Greg Goldson-like career.
|9||Jackie Bradley||Red Sox|
1. Byron Buxton, Twins (Finished 2013 in High-A, projects to open 2014 in AA)
Almost universally viewed as the top prospect in baseball, Buxton made short work of A-ball and High-A in 2013, putting together an almost unprecedented .334/.424/.520 line with 19 doubles, 18 triples, 12 home runs and 55 stolen bases. A five-tool centerfielder who projects as a .330/.400/.500 hitter who could go 30/30 every year, Buxton is the rare prospect with an MVP upside and a major league regular floor. While AA will be a big test, Buxton could be the next great two-way center fielder in Minnesota. His fantasy comparison, while possibly hyperbolic, is Mike Trout.
2. Oscar Taveras, Cardinals (Finished 2013 in AAA, likely to return for 2014)
Taveras had an injury-shortened 2013, which effectively ended in late June due to an injured right ankle. Expected to be at full strength by the start of spring training, Taveras is, again, blocked in St. Louis. With Matt Adams expected to take over at first base, shifting Allen Craig to right field, and Peter Bourjos starting in center field, John Jay and Shane Robinson are left to serve as extra outfielders. Taveras is unlikely to get promoted unless there is consistent playing time, but he will leapfrog Jay and Robinson in the event of an injury. Taveras projects as a .300/.400/.500 hitter who hits in the middle of a lineup for the next decade. Though he may never have his peak power, his fantasy comparable is Matt Holliday, right down to the 15 stolen bases per year.
3. Billy Hamilton, Reds (Finished 2013 in majors)
The fastest baseball player in recent memory, Hamilton exploded onto the scene with 103 stolen bases in 2011, which he followed up with a record-setting 155 stolen bases in 2012. He will be a threat to steal 100+ bases ever year, but he may never hit .300 and may hit only a handful of out of the park home runs during his career. Comparable is Vince Coleman, who averaged 102 stolen bases per 162 games during his first six seasons, but hit .265/.326/.339. If he hits .300, he will be more similar to Juan Pierre, who has a career .297/.347/.368 line. He will start in centerfield in Cincinnati, but his stolen base totals and overall productivity may be muted by his inability to drive the ball.
4. Gregory Polanco, Pirates (Finished 2013 in AAA, likely to return in 2014)
Polanco exploded in 2012, going from hitting .237/.322/.346 in Rookie to .325/.388/.522 in Class A. Polanco continued in 2013, hitting a combined .285/.356/.434 in High-A and AA before a two-game cameo at the end of the AAA season. He projects as a .280/.375/.450 hitter with 20 home runs and 30 steals every year. Polanco may have trouble cracking the major league roster in 2014, as the outfield is full and Travis Snider will serve as the extra corner outfielder. His fantasy comparable is Starling Marte.
5. George Springer, Astros (Finished 2013 in AAA, likely to open 2014 in majors)
Springer put up an amazing .303/.411/.600 line between AA and AAA in 2013, hitting 37 home runs and stealing 45 bases. While it is highly unlikely he will ever put up a similar stat line in the majors, Springer’s power and speed are for real. Springer is already an above-average center fielder that could hit .275/.350/.500 with 25 home runs and 30 stolen bases at his peak, but his penchant for striking out (319 in 271 professional games) could severely limit his productivity and turn him into a .220/.290/.380 hitter. His fantasy comparable is Colby Rasmus with 30+ stolen bases, though a Mike Cameron comparison is not out of the question.
6. Jorge Soler, Cubs (Finished 2013 in High-A, expected to start 2014 in AA)
Despite playing only one month in Series Nacional in Cuba before being suspended (for trying to defect), Soler signed a nine-year contract with the Cubs worth $30 million in June 2012. Soler had a productive but not particularly notable year, unless you count when he threatened an entire team’s bench with a bat after a bench-clearing brawl. After the suspension, Soler played without major incident until his season ended with a stress fracture in his left tibia in mid-June. He projects as a prototypical right fielder with a strong arm and copious power, capable of putting up a .270/.340/.500 line with 30 home runs and 10 stolen bases. His fantasy comparable is Jay Bruce, though he will be better at minimizing strikeouts.
7. Clint Frazier, Indians (Finished 2013 in Rookie, likely to open 2014 in A)
The 5th overall pick in the 2013 draft, Frazier has shown a quick, powerful bat and solid athletic ability that could lead to his becoming an elite fantasy player. Frazier may bounce between a below-average center fielder with a good arm to a above-average right fielder that lacks the cannon more commonly associated with the position. While it is unlikely that Frazier will ever lead the league in anything, he has the talent to be a .290/.350/.475 hitter with 25 home runs and a few stolen bases. A fantasy comparable is Wil Myers, though that may be overstating his power potential.
8. Joc Pederson, Dodgers (Finished 2013 in AA, likely to open 2014 in AAA)
An 11th round pick in 2010, Pederson has steadily climbed the prospect ladder, which led to his .278/.381/.497 line in AA in 2013. A great all-around athlete, Pederson has immense potential as a solid center fielder that puts up a .275/.355/.420 line with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Unfortunately for Pederson, the Dodgers have one of the most clogged outfields, with Crawford, Puig, Kemp and Ethier all signed through 2017, so he may get stuck in minor league purgatory until there are injuries or a trade. His fantasy comparable is Hunter Pence with fewer doubles.
9. Jackie Bradley, Red Sox (Finished 2013 in majors)
A future top of the order threat, Bradley is likely to open 2014 as the Red Sox center fielder and #9 hitter. While he lacks a standout tool, Bradley looks to carve out a long career with gold glove defense, a good eye at the plate and a little bit of speed. He projects as a .280/.350/.400 hitter with a handful of home runs and 15 stolen bases each year. His fantasy comparable is Angel Pagan with more walks.
10. David Dahl, Rockies (Missed most of 2013, likely to return to A for 2014)
After setting the Pioneer League on fire in 2012 with a .379/.423/.625 line, Dahl missed nearly all of the 2013 season due to a disciplinary issue (he missed a team flight) and a hamstring injury, delaying his development timetable. Assuming the layoff does not substantially stunt his development, Dahl projects as a .315/.370/.460 hitter with 15 home runs and 20+ stolen bases each year. His fantasy comparable is Shane Victorino with a higher batting average.
11. Austin Meadows, Pirates (Finished 2013 in Low-A, likely to open 2014 in AA)
The 9th overall pick in the 2013 draft, Meadows projects as a high-average center fielder that hits a few home runs. While it is premature to worry about where Meadows could fit in the Pirates outfield, it is easy to notice that the Pirates suddenly have a glut of very good outfielders in the major leagues, as well as Gregory Polanco waiting in the wings. Despite the logjam ahead of him, Meadows’ future is bright, even if he won’t be in Pittsburgh in the near future. He projects as a .300/.350/.430 hitter with 15 home runs each year. His fantasy comparable is Norichika Aoki with a higher average and a little more power.
12. Jorge Bonifacio, Royals (Finished 2013 in AA, likely to return for 2014)
The younger brother of the Royals’ second baseman/super utility guy Emilio, Jorge Bonifacio is a different style of player. He has the projection to be a prototypical right fielder: decent speed, good power and a cannon arm. Though his season was interrupted due to a break in his hamate bone that caused him to miss approximately six weeks and sapped much of his power, he still put up a solid line. There is a wide range of how Bonifacio could develop – from a .300/.350/.375 hitter with little power to a more typical right fielder that hits .260/.320/.400 with 25 home runs. His fantasy comparable is Michael Brantley with a little more power.
13. Bubba Starling, Royals (Finished 2013 in A, likely to open 2014 in High-A)
One of the best pure athletes in professional sports, Starling has the potential to turn into perennial all-star outfielder in the mold of Mike Cameron, right down to the gold glove defense. However, getting to the major leagues is far from a sure thing for the 5th overall pick in the 2011 draft. In his two seasons of professional baseball, Starling has struggled to put up more than middling statistics, with a career .252/.342/.425 line. After Lasik surgery in May, there was little improvement until his scorching .322/.398/.575 line in September. If he makes the majors, Starling could put up a .260/.350/.480 line with 25 home runs and 30 stolen bases. However, there is a substantial question as to whether Starling will make it to the major leagues, and his fantasy comparable could be Ruben Rivera.
14. Lewis Brinson, Rangers (Finished 2013 in A, likely to open 2014 in High-A)
Brinson is a prospect with immense potential and one massive problem. While he has above average speed, power and arm, Brinson’s inability to consistently make contact could doom him into the role of a defensive replacement without value in any fantasy baseball format. In 2013, Brinson hit .237/.322/.427 with 191 strikeouts in 503 plate appearances, a rate of one strikeout for each 2.63 plate appearances. While he had 21 home runs and 24 stolen bases, it is unlikely that Brinson will ever reach his potential unless he is able to significantly improve his contact rate. His fantasy comparable is Sam Fuld with more home runs and strikeouts, but the same great defense.
15. Michael Choice, Rangers (Finished 2013 in majors with A’s, traded to Rangers in off-season)
Choice went from having a good chance at picking up 400 plate appearances for the A’s while serving as the backup to all three outfield positions and DH to having no defined role for the Rangers. While this is not a great role, Choice will be given the opportunity to take at bats away from Mitch Moreland at DH, and will serve as the primary extra outfielder. If given a full season and consistent playing time, Choice projects as a .240/.320/.400 hitter who hits 25 home runs and picks up a handful of stolen bases. While he can handle center field, Choice is better suited for a corner outfield position, which is further limited by his average throwing arm. His fantasy comparable is Oswaldo Arcia with a lower average and more walks.
Ten more worth noting: Jesse Winker, Reds; Brandon Nimmo, Mets; Rymer Liriano, Padres; Phillip Ervin, Reds; Kyle Parker, Rockies; Cesar Puello, Mets; Nick Williams, Rangers; Tyler Austin, Yankees; Mason Williams, Yankees; Stephen Piscotty, Cardinals