My Preseason Top 10 Prospects For 2014

I use the term 'preseason' here lightly, but I figured it's almost January, so what the hell.

I'm going to "borrow" John Sickels' grading system, so here's how it works:

Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. In theory, most Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or unanticipated problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.

Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.

Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.

Was going to go for 30 like the site writers did, but 10 won't be nearly as time-consuming.

Let's begin:

1) Carlos Correa, SS, Grade A: Clearly the class of the system. Probably surprised quite a few people with last season's performance in Low-A, as he was thought of by the industry as one of the more raw toolsheds heading into the 2012 draft. Is much more advanced than just about every prospect his age in essentially every facet of the game. The hit tool projects to be a plus one, as does his power tool. Arm is a clear weapon, already grading as a plus-plus one. Glove could also turn out to be a plus one, though unfortunately it's hard to predict which position it will play at, as we have to wait to see how he moves with a filled-out frame. Will likely split time between High-A & Double-A throughout 2014. Ceiling: Bonafide All-Star SS. Floor: Second division 3B.

2) Mark Appel, RHP, Grade A-: Borderline A. You can definitely make a case for George Springer here, but I prefer Appel, at this point. Projects to have at least three above-average (if not plus) pitches, working with a fastball in the mid 90s, a change-up & a slider. The slider is the superior of the two and looks like the better bet of the pair to be a plus offering, though most scouts believe the change-up would be a solid 3rd pitch at worst. Aside from the arsenal, both his control & his command are solid, if not above-average. Has the frame of a workhorse and is perhaps the most polished prospect in the minors. He is arguably major league ready today, but he'll likely begin the year at Double-A and will finish the year in the bigs. Ceiling: Borderline #1 starter. Floor: Slightly above-average #3 starter.

3) George Springer, OF, Grade A-: Springer is probably the most true 5-tooler in the minors right now. His power potential is easily plus, as are his arm and his speed, and more than likely, his glove. While Springer has hit for a good average throughout his minor league career, he tends to strikeout a lot (no thanks to his putrid 2-strike approach), and his contact skills in general are a question mark, leading scouts to think that his major league batting average will most likely hover around the .270s. The good news is that Springer possesses good on-base skills, and should be on the base paths at an above-average rate, maybe better. He clearly dominated Triple-A in 2013 and absolutely should be starting in the outfield to start 2014, barring a pathetic showing in spring training. Ceiling: Perennial All-Star OF. Floor: Second division OF.

4) Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Grade B+: The clear-cut best 1B prospect in the minors was very mediocre in Triple-A during the 2013 season, though I suspect the 50-game suspension to begin the season took a toll on him. For others, he is probably a Grade B prospect right now, but I still very much believe in him. The approach at the plate is still excellent (though he will need to eventually hit lefties better), and the power potential is easily plus. The hit tool was once upon a time the better projected tool, but it looks more likely that the power one will be his calling card. When examining the swing, the amount of torque he gets in it is outstanding, and even better, he stays balanced. 1B is his only position, and he may not even play it at an average level. Still, the bat is what makes him special. There's a good chance, I believe, that he beats out Brett Wallace in spring training and opens the 2014 season as the starting 1B, but he may also fizzle in spring training and head back to Triple-A for a few months. Either way, he will likely make his debut this upcoming season. Ceiling: First division 1B/borderline All-Star. Floor: Solid 1B regular.

5) Vincent Velasquez, RHP, Grade B: Borderline B+. The Tommy John survivor was brilliant in 2013, leading the Midwest league in strikeouts, while posting solid to good numbers across the rest of the board. The fastball sits in the 93-96 area, and has apparently touched higher at times. The change-up is a major-league ready pitch, as it's already an above-average pitch, and projects to be a plus one. The breaking ball, however, is considered to be borderline below-average right now, and some scouts think it may not ever be better than a mediocre 3rd pitch. Still, Velasquez has big upside with his athleticism and stuff, and his control isn't too shabby either. High-A is going to be tricky for him, but I believe we'll see what he's made of when he makes the jump to Double-A. Ceiling: Borderline number 2 starter. Floor: Number 4 starter.

6) Lance McCullers, Jr., RHP, Grade B: Borderline B+. The flamethrower from Florida was very successful in his first year of pro ball, showcasing an absolutely electric fastball-breaking ball combo while inducing a fair number of grounders. Generally speaking, he is quite tough to hit, as both the fastball and the breaking ball could be plus-plus offerings when it's all said & done, but he does struggle at times with his control, and for now, that remains his Achilles heel. Some scouts think that his high-effort delivery is a sign that he's destined to be a closer, but he's well-built at 6'2" 205, and is a good athlete, so I'm optimistic that he'll be a starting pitcher in his prime. Like Velasquez, McCullers' 3rd pitch, his change-up, is at present a below-average pitch, and also like Velasquez, some scouts think that it won't be ever better than a very mediocre 3rd pitch. LMJ will start in High-A to begin the season, and will probably end up in Double-A some time during the year, barring any consistent issues in the California League. Ceiling: Number 2 starter. Floor: Effective closer.

7) Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, Grade B: Borderline B+. Folty really upped his stock in 2013, posting very good strikeout numbers while pumping massive heat. The fastball routinely sat in the upper 90s and touched 100+ more than a few times, reportedly topping out at 103. He is very difficult to get a hit off of, and is quite the intimidating presence on the mount with his big, strong & athletic frame. As elite as his fastball is, Foltynewicz's control is a big problem for him. There are some games where he really stays in check, but most of the time he puts a good number of baserunners on. The command is even worse, and eventually the goal became to just keep the ball down, though the fastball was consistently chased up in the zone. Furthermore, Foltynewicz lacks a truly plus secondary pitch. His breaking ball is his best bet, as it could be an above-average pitch, but other than that, his arsenal takes a nosedive. The change-up, which made strides in 2012, looked awful in 2013, and even when it looked decent, he just couldn't command it. Folty will start the year in Triple-A, and he could see time in the majors, but it's going to depend on how much progress he makes with his control. Ceiling: Borderline number 2 starter. Floor: Ace closer.

8) Domingo Santana, OF, Grade B: Was really considering bumping Santana down to a borderline B, but I just love what he brings to the table. Power potential is easily plus, grading a hair shy of plus-plus, and his arm out in RF is very strong. He shows a willingness to take pitches and realizes the importance of getting on-base, as he's posted an above-average walk rate the past two seasons. The contact skills are what drags him down. He whiffs a lot, and though he's got great strength and good athleticism for his size, he tends to swing too hard. While he's still pretty raw, he is Double-A proven, and perhaps the more advanced pitching he'll see in Triple-A will further his development. I'd be a bit surprised if he made his debut in 2014, as the organization has shown that it wants to be very patient with him. Ceiling: First division OF/borderline All-Star. Floor: Borderline regular/4th OF.

9) Rio Ruiz, 3B, Grade B: Was a bit concerned about our lone 3B prospect in the system, but he absolutely demolished the Midwest league during the 2nd half of the season. Scouts seem to be split on his bat, as half think the power potential is the plus tool, and the other half thinking the hit one is. The arm at 3B is a no-doubt plus arm, but the glove is very questionable. Ruiz doesn't have the greatest lateral agility in the world and possesses below-average speed, leading some evaluators thinking he'll eventually end up at 1B. Aside from his physical abilities, Ruiz displays a sound approach at the plate and has a good knowledge of the strike zone for someone his age. He'll start the year at High-A, and like others on this list, will probably finish the year at Double-A. Ceiling: First division 3B/occasional All-Star. Floor: Second division 1B/average regular.

10) Josh Hader, LHP, Grade B-: Borderline B. You can put a lot of guys here, but I think Hader is the best out of that bunch. The athletic & projectable southpaw acquired in the Bud Norris trade flashed impressive stuff on a loaded Quad-Cities team. The velocity jumped to the 90-94 area, and it could eventually sit in the mid 90s once he fills out his frame. As far as secondary stuff goes, the change-up is his go-to pitch in 2-strike counts. He commands it pretty well and it has late fade on it. The slider is a below-average pitch right now, but the projection is a bit clouded, as reports indicate that it has the potential to improve as Hader matures. The control needs work, but he doesn't turn 20 until April, so youth is still most certainly on his side. He'll likely begin the year at High-A, which is very impressive for a lefty of his age, and may or may not make the jump to Double-A before the season's end. Ceiling: Above-average number 3 starter. Floor: Borderline number 5 starter/set-up man.

I'm assuming the Hader placement will be the most talked about, along with Delino DeShields, Jr. being passed up on. DeShields just doesn't appeal to me like he does to a lot of other people. The speed is outstanding and his hit tool looks promising, but a lot of people in the industry are concerned with his makeup. In fact, I've even read reports saying that that and his other limitations will hold him back from coming close to his ceiling. Plus, I hate the fact that he was moved away from 2B and back into the outfield. He had been making progress there (albeit slowly but surely) and had more value at that position. I'd be very happy if he proved me to be terribly wrong in 2014, though.

Any and all feedback is welcome.

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