by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Outfield may not be the deepest position when it comes to prospects (shortstop definitely takes home that honor), but there is an awful lot of talent on the horizon. Who are the best on their way? Let’s kick off the rankings with our Top 10:
1) Byron Buxton – Minnesota Twins
#1 ranked Twins prospect
Grade – A
Had it not been for injuries Buxton would’ve graduated and been ineligible for this list, as he played in 46 games (129 AB) for the Twins this past season. Arguably the elite prospect in the game, a healthy Buxton quickly put his disappointing 2014 campaign behind him:
- Double-A (237 AB) – .283, 6 HR, 37 RBI, 44 R, 20 SB
- Triple-A (55 AB) – .400, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 11 R, 2 SB
- Majors (129 AB) – .209, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 16 R, 2 SB
His problem in the Majors was a significant jump in strikeouts, at 31.9% (19.0% at Double-A), and a lack of line drives (13.9%). It often takes younger players time to adjust, and Buxton’s lack of experience against upper level pitching (he had 3 AB above High-A prior to ’15) supports that thought. Remember Mike Trout struggled in his first taste of the Majors, so don’t read into the numbers. View the talent and expect him to make the necessary adjustments as he establishes himself.
2) Lewis Brinson – Texas Rangers
#1 ranked Rangers prospect
Grade – A-
Could his emergence have made it easier for the team to include Williams in the Hamels trade? He’s not the flashiest name in the system, but he’s taken steps in the right direction and could offer the most overall upside. Brinson reached Triple-A last season, hitting .332 with 20 HR and 18 SB in 398 AB across three levels. The big development was in his strikeout rate, which was 21.59% overall, as it took a significant step forward after posting a 25.1% mark at High-A in ’14:
- High-A (258 AB) – 21.5%
- Double-A (110 AB) – 23.3%
- Triple-A (30 AB) – 16.2%
He clearly has a good command of the strike zone (with a 9.69% walk rate in ’15), and also could see his power continue to grow (he added 31 doubles and 8 triples). He may not be a .300 hitter (.393 BABIP), but the 2012 first round pick has the makings of a .280ish hitter with 20/20 upside. In other words, there’s a ton to like overall.
3) Bradley Zimmer – Cleveland Indians
#1 ranked Indians prospect
Grade – A-
The 2014 first round draft pick blossomed in his first full professional season, hitting .273 with 16 HR and 44 SB between High-A and Double-A. The average did struggle upon his promotion, hitting .219, with strikeouts being a bit of a concern:
- High-A (335 PA) – 23.0%
- Double-A (214 PA) – 25.2%
Of course he also showed a good eye at the plate (walk rates of 11.0% and 8.4%), so there is reason to believe that he can correct the issue. He’s listed at 6’4” and there’s potential for the power to continue to develop which, when coupled with his ability to steal bases, gives him a scary combination. Think of him as a 20/20 player who should also hit .270+, with the potential to develop into even more than that.
4) Nomar Mazara – Texas Rangers
#2 ranked Rangers prospect
Grade – A-
You could easily argue that this is a 1 and 1A situation, as both Mazara and Brinson bring significant upside and appeal to the future of the Rangers outfield. Mazara spent the bulk of 2015 at Double-A (409 AB), hitting .284 with 13 HR. Like Brinson he too showed an improved approach at the plate (19.6% strikeout rate) and has power, though he doesn’t have the speed potential. There are also questions regarding his ability to hit southpaws, though he improved in that regard as well:
- Single-A (2014, 112 AB) – .214/.279/.330
- Double-A (2015, 77 AB) – .260/.359/.429
He’s big (6’4”) and the power should continue to grow. If he continues his improvements at the plate in regards to the strikeouts and hitting left-handed pitching he could easily become the top prospect in the system.
5) Brett Phillips – Milwaukee Brewers
#1 ranked Brewers prospect
Grade – A-
Acquired from the Astros as part of the Carlos Gomez trade, with the Brewers seemingly deciding that Domingo Santana won’t man CF there’s a gaping hole that will need to be filled. They may be able to piece it together, in the short-term, but sooner or later Phillips is going to get his shot.
He reached Double-A last season and overall showed power (34 doubles, 14 triples and 16 HR) and speed (17 SB). His power nearly disappeared upon his promotion (1 HR at Double-A), though he did have 15 doubles and 7 triples so we shouldn’t be too concerned.
Could he develop into a 20/20 threat, given those numbers? Absolutely, though 120 K in 505 AB is going to be something to watch. Then again, prior to the trade he had a 17.9% strikeout rate over 134 PA at Double-A, so it’s not that great of a concern. Suddenly he’s looking like a potential .270/20/20 threat in centerfield. What exactly is there not to like?
6) Manuel Margot – San Diego Padres
#1 ranked Padres prospect
Grade – A-
If it hadn’t been for the signing of Yoan Mocada we would’ve been talking about Margot as the next big thing in Boston. Now in San Diego, we no longer have to worry about that. Splitting time between High-A and Double-A he hit .276 with 6 HR and 39 SB over 439 AB.
He may never be a 20+ HR hitter, but double-digits are a realistic expectation, even with calling Petco Park home, having added 27 doubles and 9 triples in ’15. Throw in just 53 K (12.8% strikeout rate at Double-A) and you have the makings of a real menace hitting atop a batting order.
There’s a chance that the Padres push the envelope with Margot, who at 21-years old could conceivably reach the Majors at some point in ’16 given the questions the team has in the outfield. It’s more likely that he arrives in ’17, though, where he could thrive immediately.
7) Aaron Judge – New York Yankees
#2 ranked Yankees prospect
Grade – A-
Power is at a premium in baseball and Judge brings the potential to bring it to the table. At 6’7” and 275 lbs. he’s certainly an imposing figure in the batters box, though that also means an enormous strike zone and he did struggle with strike outs between Double-A (25.0%) and Triple-A (28.5%) in 2015. That’s a major concern, as it’s going to drag down his average (as it is he hit just .224 at Triple-A). He also has yet to fully put his power on display, hitting “just” 20 HR in 478 AB last season. That should develop, given more experience (he was drafted in 2013), but it’s possible that he ultimately develops into a .250-ish hitter with 25-30 HR upside.
8) Nick Williams – Philadelphia Phillies
#2 ranked Phillies prospect
Grade – B+ (borderline A-)
The biggest question for Williams, who was acquired as part of the Cole Hamels trade, has been his ability to make consistent contact. He made huge strides in that department, though, playing for two different Double-A teams:
- Rangers (415 PA) – 18.6%
- Phillies (100 PA) – 20.0%
If he can continue at that level, there is no questioning the upside. He hit 17 HR last season, to go along with 26 doubles and 6 triples, showing that as he ages he should routinely top 20 HR with a bit more potential. He also has the speed, though he needs to become a bit more efficient (13 SB in 21 attempts last season). No longer viewed in the same vein as a Drew Stubbs type, as long as the strikeouts remain suppressed the value is going to be there.
9) Austin Meadows – Pittsburgh Pirates
#2 ranked Pirates prospect
Grade – B+
The Pirates have a highly skilled young outfield already, so figuring out Meadows arrival date is going to be a bit inexact. There’s every chance that he’s ready to produce at some point in ’17, but will the team have an opening for him to fill? There also is a bit of projection in his upside, as his 7 HR/20 SB over 508 AB at High-A last season doesn’t jump out and scream “can’t miss prospect”.
He does have speed, he just needs to develop an ability to consistently steal bases, and the potential is there to ultimately develop a bit of pop (15-20 HR, not likely 30+). It’s his contact ability that is currently playing up, with a 14.2% strikeout rate last season (helping to his .307 average), that is the most “exciting” tool at this point. Don’t be mistaken however, as the upside and ability is there to produce across the board.
10) Andrew Benintendi – Boston Red Sox
#4 ranked Red Sox prospect
Grade – B+
The seventh overall pick in 2015 quickly proved that he belonged, hitting 11 HR with 10 SB to go along with a .313 average over his first 198 professional AB. The performance looks even better when you factor in that he actually walked (35) more than he struck out (24). You have to wonder if that type of performance made the team more comfortable with dealing Manuel Margot. Drafted out of college the left-handed hitter could quickly move through the system.
Sources – MILB.com, Fangraphs
Grading System (still in development):
Grade A – Elite Prospects (aka potential future perennial All-Stars)
Grade B – Above Average Prospects (aka above average Major Leaguers, could develop into a potential All-Star)
Grade C – Average Prospects (aka solid, though unspectacular)
Grade D – Nothing More Than Roster Filler
Grade F – Move On
Make sure to check out all of our Top 10 Prospect Lists: