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December 4, 2012

Prospect Push

On the Brink of Elite

by Jason Churchill

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Among the seven clubs covered in the 2013 Top 10 before yesterday's talent-rich Royals rankings are 70 ranked prospects. Within that group, there are a few dozen very strong prospects that project to be above-average regulars with the potential for more. There isn't one truly elite prospect among them—despite several with superstar upside, the best of them lack the track record and probability of a premium prospect—and there aren't going to be many in the next 23 sets of by-team rankings either.

There are, however, a number of talents who have the combination of tools, legit baseball skill, and makeup to wear such a tag at this time next year. Using the 70 players already ranked as the canvas, here is a painting of a few I have identified that could join the ultra-small crop of elite prospects in 2013.

Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
Lindor lacks the power upside of a superstar bat, but his makeup is off the charts, he's a plus defensive shortstop, and he has no glaring weaknesses. He brings versatility to the table in terms of his ability to switch hit effectively, and he is a plus runner (though not a pure speed burner). He makes consistent contact and works counts well, and despite being a major home run threat in high school has shown a disciplined approach as a pro.

Lindor is a mature player with a great work ethic and polished game for his age, suggesting he's a candidate to develop above and beyond in some areas. He could reach the majors before he turns 22, and if the hit tool is one of those skills that develops, the Indians could have a perennial All-Star on their hands.

Lindor's power upside tops out in the average range—a 50 on the 20-80 scouting scale—but as he matures physically, some of the gap doubles could turn into long balls, potentially producing 15-18 home runs per season in a manner similar to that of current Tribe shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.

A shortstop with a plus glove that hits .280 or better with 15-plus home run pop, 25 stolen bases, and a .340-.360 on-base mark—from both sides of the plate—is a superstar, and that isn't out of reach for this 2011 first-round draft pick.

Jorge Soler, RF, Chicago Cubs
Soler's chances at superstardom depends on his ability to max out his power potential and find a way to hit for enough average for his power to show up in games with regularity. Soler already shows plenty of athleticism to be an asset in right field, including a 60 throwing arm.

The swing is sound and engineered for power; Soler has shown an ability to create consistent loft and good pop to right-center field during batting practice. The 20-year-old could reach the 30 home run mark in his prime, but progress in terms of plate coverage and using the whole field are two key factors in his development.

If he's to reach elite status, all areas of his game have to show more consistency and become reliable facets of his game, starting with his ability to hit for average. A strong 2013 highlighted by strong contact rates by power-hitter standards, consistent at-bats, and polish to his defense and baserunning could change his profile a year from now, possibly even to elite status.

Byron Buxton, CF, Minnesota Twins
Buxton already has the superstar upside, but many of the tools are raw and his power is untapped. The no. 2 overall pick last June can answer some questions in 2013, starting with the transition to the wood bat. He’ll also need to prove he can produce at the plate against good competition, something he didn't get much of a chance to do as a prep.

Buxton has all the tools to be a plus defensive player and is an 80 runner with an 80 throwing arm—he often hit the mid-to-upper 90s from the mound in high school—and the bat speed is there for 20-25 home runs.

Buxton’s showing in 2013 will go a long way in suggesting what kind of prospect he really is—a very good player led by speed and defense with an outside shot to be an above-average bat or one that projects in the upper half of the batting order. If he ends up anywhere near the latter, the Twins will have another star center fielder on their hands and perhaps even one that challenges for an MVP some day.

Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
Correa is as raw as Buxton, but his power comes easier thanks to a more sound power swing and easier bat speed. While he's unlikely to stick at shortstop—the chances vary between zero and fifteen percent, depending on which scout is asked—Correa possesses every tool necessary to handle third base well.

Like Lindor, Correa's hit tool is the key to his future status, but also like Lindor, his baseball acumen and work ethic strongly suggest he has a good shot to hit at least .260 with above-average on-base marks.  There's a lot of work to do mechanically, but it's mostly below the hands, including the occasionally-happy lower half and a tendency as a prep to peel open early and get out on his front foot.

How much he develops his ability to make contact and hit for average will determine whether or not he joins the elite club, because it appears Correa may back into 20 home runs per season and could approach, or even exceed, 30.

Lance McCullers, RHP, Houston Astros
McCullers drew rave reviews last spring for making enough mechanical adjustments to quiet some criticisms and alter his projection from surefire reliever to having a decent chance to develop into a front-line starting pitcher.

The fastball and curveball are future plus pitches—the four-seamer already shows plus-plus velocity—with the biggest questions coming in terms of consistent delivery and the high effort with which he goes about his business on the mound.

These issues have resulted in control and command problems, but McCullers is a good athlete and could continue his improvement in these areas as a pro if given the chance to start and log some valuable innings.

He's the longest shot on this list, but it's difficult to ignore a potential 80 fastball for a starter (especially when it comes with a 60 power breaking ball) despite the lack of a weapon versus left-handed hitters. McCullers should get the necessary opportunity to change the minds of Astros brass before they toss the starter development program and start grooming him as their future closer.

Xander Bogaerts, 3B, Boston Red Sox
Bogaerts is unlikely to remain at shortstop—I contend there is nearly a zero chance he plays as average or better at the position long term—but his power potential and advanced hit tool keep him in this conversation.

The 20-year-old carries a better profile at the same stage than did Will Middlebrooks, who broke out in the big leagues in 2012. Bogaerts brings more athleticism to the field than Middlebrooks, suggesting a move to third base will be seamless. His top-drawer bat speed leads many scouts to believe he will continue to hit for power through the minors and into the major leagues.

He's closer to elite status for me at present than any other player on this list and could create an interesting dilemma next winter; should he prove himself in 2013, the Red Sox may consider trading Middlebrooks to open up the hot corner for Bogaerts. How the Aruba native handles Triple-A pitching will determine his ETA in the big leagues. If he takes another step forward this season, Bogaerts may be considered one of the elite prospects in baseball.

16 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Marc Normandin

Question: Even if Bogaerts is a below-average defender at short, isn't it possible he sticks at the position and does a fine job of things anyway thanks to his bat? Shortstop is pretty terrible league-wide. Or would he be so bad that he absolutely has to be pushed off to a corner?

Dec 04, 2012 04:29 AM
rating: 5
 
lmarighi

I had a similar question come to mind while reading this, and it lead to a more general question about how bad SS-defense can be before it becomes "unacceptable" at the major-league level. It seems like, given how bad the SS situation is around the majors that some team would be willing to stick a lead-gloved (or at least magnesium-gloved) defender at short who could really hit, especially if they didn't have a groundball-heavy staff.

Dec 04, 2012 06:53 AM
rating: 0
 
Marc Normandin

I watch Derek Jeter and Hanley Ramirez and wonder how much worse Bogaerts will be, and if his bat won't be enough to compensate.

Dec 04, 2012 11:55 AM
rating: 1
 
Cromulent

I'm curious...if none of these guys or presumably Wil Myers is currently elite, then who is? I just want to be sure I understand your terms.

Dec 04, 2012 04:45 AM
rating: 0
 
Behemoth

I think Myers probably is considered elite. If not, the elite bat list is pretty short.

Dec 04, 2012 05:32 AM
rating: 0
 
jedjethro

Profar, Taveras, Bundy, for immediate starters. I'm guessing you could make the argument for including about 10 to 15 players in that group, with maybe 6 or 7 of them locks (as for as consensus) or close to it.

Dec 04, 2012 06:34 AM
rating: 0
 
Behemoth

I think Profar is the only bat that is clearly a better prospect than Myers. I think you could credibly claim Myers is the third best prospect in baseball right now if you wanted.

Dec 04, 2012 17:35 PM
rating: 0
 
timber

The way the article is worded it appears Jason is looking at only players on teams reviewed BEFORE the Royals, so Myers would not be included in the pool of possibilites.

Dec 04, 2012 08:16 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Derek Carty
BP staff

This is correct. The article was meant to go up before the Royals list was published but was temporarily delayed.

Dec 04, 2012 12:32 PM
 
mattgioia

You guys seem to be putting a lot of emphasis on makeup/work-ethic with these new rankings (or are making a more conscious decision to highlight it) and it seems to be a factor in your reports. Have you done some behind the scenes work on bust-rates/success-rates and if/how they correlate to make-up? Are you grading makeup now in some way?

Dec 04, 2012 06:39 AM
rating: 1
 
crile2

The use of 'top-drawer' made this one of the best articles I've read in a while

Dec 04, 2012 06:46 AM
rating: 0
 
berkoffm

We're would Javier Baez be relative to this group? Baez ranked ahead of Solar on the Cubs list. Is that only because of his lengthier track record?

Dec 04, 2012 07:37 AM
rating: 2
 
Jason A. Churchill

Re: Bogaerts

I have heard mixed reviews on his defense, both at present and for the future. Seems about half the scouts I ask say he's fringy now, lacking natural actions and needs those because he's only going to get bigger and stronger, rather than quicker.

The other half suggest just what you have suggested -- if he can be Hanley Ramirez, it's OK that he's a 45 glove. Personally, I'd need to get a fresh look.

Ramirez hurt the Marlins defensively at shortstop most seasons and may have been more valuable overall as a centerfielder. Jeter should have been a left fielder four years ago. It really depends on the makeup of the rest of the roster. If the Red Sox have a better defender that isn't a liability at the plate, Bogaerts can go to third base, or even the outfield.

Cromulent,

When I wrote this, the Royals' Top 10 had not been published. Myers is among the elite. This piece was delayed on my end, not BP's.

mattgoia,

One of the clubs I am closest to is the Seattle Mariners, and their staff values makeup more than some, but it's been a growing sentiment around the league for a few years. Those with maturity and work ethic succeed at much higher rate than those that don't, that isn't a surprise, nor a secret.

It absolutely matters, and in many cases allows the players' physical tools to play up. Like with a pitcher's fastball -- if he only throws 89-91, but commands it very well, knows how to pitch and gets good movement, it's going to get a grade above average, despite average velocity.

A prospect's ability to put their tools to use is vital. I grade makeup for the big picture, though I typically do not throw a number on it.

berkoffm,

Baez was considered for this list and in general fits the profile, but I couldn't come to the conclusion that even if he maxes out everything offensively that he's a star. It would help if he stays at shortstop, but even the most optimistic aren't betting on that.

crile2,

I did not realize I used 'top-drawer' which might make it even more awesome. It just kind of flowed out of the tips of my fingers.

Dec 04, 2012 13:22 PM
rating: 0
 
Cromulent

Thanks for the response. I wasn't trying to call you out on Myers, for what it's worth, just hoping to get a better sense of what elite means. It seems like to some degree it's in the eye of the beholder.

Thanks.

Dec 04, 2012 16:32 PM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

It may be that a shortstop in the 15-HR, .350-OBP, .280-BA, etc., class looks like a "superstar" today, but I think it should be kept in mind that it hasn't been that long since there were multiple guys who were approximating that kind of production at the position, not all of them "superstars" as we now think of the term. The 2006 shortstop BVORP tabulation reachable through the statistics page is something to drool over, but calling Rafael Furcal and Carlos Guillen "superstars" rather stretches the term, in my opinion. Furcal in particular looks like a pretty good perfect-world projection for Lindor (extending to the switch hitting). He is and has been a very good player. Superstar? Not so sure.

Dec 04, 2012 17:56 PM
rating: 1
 
Jason A. Churchill

Except that the game has changed dramatically in the past seven years. Offensive numbers are down since 2005-6 and there is a premium put on defense and positional value.

Dec 04, 2012 18:18 PM
rating: 1
 
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