Prospect watch: Top 25 most impressive minor leaguers

Baltimore Orioles prospect Dylan Bundy is having one of the most impressive debut seasons in minor league history. (Joey Gardner/

With just about a quarter of the minor league season gone, it’s time to take a look at some of the more impressive prospects this season. This is not a top-25 list of the best prospects, rather a list of the players who have impressed the most, either through improvements in their games or continued success despite a jump in competition. This list doesn’t include guys like Will Middlebrooks and Mike Trout, both of whom were extremely impressive, but both of whom are now in the major leagues.

25. Andrew Chafin, LHP, Diamondbacks, 21 (age)

2-0, 3.03 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 46 K, 10 BB, 32.2 IP, 12.7 K/9

As if the Diamondbacks don’t already have enough future aces in their farm system with Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Bauer and Archie Bradley, here comes another one in Chafin, a 6’-2”, 210-pound rocket arm who had Tommy John surgery in 2010. A first-round pick (43rd overall) by the Diamondbacks in 2011, Chafin currently ranks among the leaders in strikeouts at class-A. He struck out a career-high 12 batters over seven innings on April 28 against San Jose, a Giants affiliate. With his fastball touching 94 mph with good movement, and the development of his secondary pitches over the off season, Chafin has put to rest any questions about him being a starter at the next level. Bauer, Bradley and Chafin in the same draft? Not fair.

24. Eddie Rosario, 2B/OF, Twins, 20

32 G, .287 AVG, 11 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 17 RBI, 7 SB .388/.426/.814

Rosario blitzed through the Appalachian League last season, hitting .337 with nine doubles, nine triples, 21 home runs, 60 RBI, 17 stolen bases and a 1.068 OPS over 67 games. The 6’-0″, 175-pound left-hander has incredible bat speed, raw power, and advanced approach at the plate and above-average speed. He Hasn’t shown that home run power in his first full season at class-A Beloit, but his 11 doubles show it’s coming. He continues to show great plate discipline by drawing 19 walks to just 17 strikeouts on the season.

23. Jurickson Profar, SS, Rangers, 19

30 G, .261 AVG, 7 2B, 4 3B, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 4 SB .323/.462/.785

Profar is a defensive whiz who turned heads with his offensive potential last season. Over 115 games at class-A Hickory, he hit .286 with 37 doubles, eight triples, 12 home runs, 65 RBI, 23 stolen bases and an .883 OPS. He also had 65 walks to 63 strikeouts, showing a great approach at the plate for an 18-year old. With the bump to double-A Frisco this season, most expected some struggles. The switch-hitter has held his own despite being one of the youngest players in the league and is currently riding a 19-game hitting streak as of May 10.

22. Robbie Erlin, LHP, Padres, 21

1-1, 2.20 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 36 K, 8 BB, 28.2 IP, 11.3 K/9

Erlin is one of the best control pitchers around, averaging 1.3 walks-per-nine innings over his 294.2 career minor league innings. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, which makes his 11.3 K/9 ratio one of the more impressive stats this season. He is a master of mixing his pitches to keep hitters off balance and attacks hitters inside and out with a bulldog mentality. He is a tactician who reminds me of Greg Maddox the way he approaches hitters without fear.

21. Tyler Austin, OF, Yankees, 20

28 G, .309 AVG, 9 2B, 4 3B, 10 HR, 26 RBI .358/.736/1.095

Austin has always been able to hit for a high average, as evidenced by his .354 average over 47 games split between rookie ball and class-A Staten Island last season. His power, however, has developed quicker than most thought, and he currently ranks among the leaders in home runs in the Sally League. The 13th-round pick by the Yankees in 2010 has far exceeded expectations this season and gives the organization another prospect to keep an eye on in their suddenly deep farm system.

20. Carlos Martinez, RHP, Cardinals, 20

2-1, 2.17 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 30 K, 9 BB, 29 IP, 9.3 K/9

Control problems were the main culprit for Martinez’ struggles at class-A advanced Palm Beach last season. Over 46 innings, he walked 30 batters en route to a 5.28 ERA and 1.71 WHIP. With improvements made in the off season, and more confidence in himself, he has cut his walks down from 5.9 to 2.8 this season, while also maintaining his high strikeout totals. At 6’-0”, 160-pounds, the diminutive right-hander has drawn comparisons to Pedro Martinez. His fastball can hit the upper-90s, and he has one of the best change-ups in the minors. He also mixes in a curveball and is very aggressive on the mound.

19. Manny Machado, SS, Orioles, 19

31 G, .264 AVG, 9 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 3 SB .378/.425/.802

Machado, the third-overall pick by the Orioles in 2010, has often been compared to Alex Rodriguez for his offensive potential at his position. While that may not be fair, and his numbers don’t exactly pop out at you, he is improving  his game at his own pace. After drawing just 22 walks over 63 games at class-A advanced Frederick last season, he has already drawn 19 through his 31 games at double-A Bowie this year. He is one of the youngest players at double-A and his bat is starting to heat up as he is hitting .333 with a .944 OPS over his last nine games. His 4.71 range factor also shows he will be able to maintain his position despite his size (6’-3”, 200-pounds).

18. Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins, 20

25 G, .310 AVG, 5 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 9 RBI, 9 SB .387/.554/.941

Yelich was named the Marlins Minor League Player of the Year in 2011 after hitting .312 with 32 doubles, 15 home runs, 77 RBI, 32 stolen bases and an .871 OPS. He also hit one of the more memorable home runs when he smacked a game winning, walk-off home run in game one of the South Atlantic League finals. It was his first professional playoff game, and that home run would propel the Grasshoppers to the Sally League title. With the jump to class-A advanced Jupiter, the area he has improved the most is his power. With his two-homer game on May 9, Yelich is starting to display the power that many knew was going to come from his 6’-4”, 200-pound frame. The left-hander is on pace for a 30 HR/30 SB season, something extremely rare in the minors.

17. Jackie Bradley, OF, Red Sox, 22

28 G, .378 AVG, 9 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 21 RBI, 11 SB .504/.582/1.085

No one has gotten on base at a higher clip than Bradley has this season. The Red Sox’ first-round pick (40th overall) in 2011 out of the University of South Carolina, the left-hander currently leads the minors in on-base percentage, thanks in part to a league-high 24 walks. Known more for his speed and defensive prowess in center field coming out of college, his hard work and dedication to become a complete player is evident and he projects to a prototypical leadoff hitter with some pop in his bat, as well.

16. Tony Cingrani, LHP, Reds, 22

4-1, 0.53 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 45 K, 9 BB, 34 IP, 11.9 K/9

I’ll forgive you if you have never heard of him. Cingrani continues to fly under the radar even after posting a 1.75 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 80 K/6 BB over 51.1 innings at Billings of the Pioneer rookie league last season. The 6’-4”, 200-pound southpaw  has advanced control of his pitches, including a fastball that can touch 96 mph with late life. He does rely on his fastball too much, something he can get away with at the lower levels, but needs to work on his secondary stuff to remain a starter as he advances through the system. Still, few have been as dominant on the mound as Cingrani this season.

15. Tyler Thornburg, RHP, Brewers, 23

4-0, 1.98 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 47 K, 11 BB, 41 IP, 10.3 K/9

Thornburg, the Brewers third-round pick in 2010, has always been a high strikeout pitcher. Coming into this season, he owned an 11.1 K/9 over 160 minor league innings. With the jump to double-A Huntsville, the 6’-0”, 190-pound right-hander has maintained those numbers while also dropping his walks-per-nine innings from 3.9 to 2.4. He flirted with a perfect game on April 16 against Tennessee, a Cubs affiliate, before surrendering a hit with one out in the eighth inning. He ranks among the league leaders at double-A in strikeouts, ERA and WHIP and could end the season in Milwaukee the way he is pitching.

14. Mason Williams, OF, Yankees, 20

27 G, .321 AVG, 8 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 12 SB .367/.486/.853

Williams tore up the New York Penn League last season, hitting .349 with 20 extra-base hits, 31 RBI, 28 stolen bases and an .863 OPS over 68 games. With a bump in competition to class-A Charleston, he has continued to show an all-around game that could make him the next Yankee superstar one day. One of the fastest players around, he also shows good pop from the left side and should develop more power as his 6’-1”, 160-pound frame matures. The most impressive thing about him, however, is his incredible ability to make contact. Over his 121 plate appearances this season, he has struck out just six times, or 5 percent of his trips to the plate.

13. Francsico Lindor, SS, Indians, 18

31 G, .307 AVG, 5 2B, 3 3B, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 11 SB .354/.453/.806

The Indians were a little hesitant about sending Lindor straight to full-season Lake County of the Midwest League, their class-A affiliate. They have since calmed their nerves as Lindor has more than held his own as one of the youngest players in the league. His 11 extra-base hits show the kind of gap power he already has, and his 4.56 range factor at shortstop shows the kind of defense that is going to win him some Gold Gloves one day.

12. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs, 22

31 G, .356 AVG, 6 2B, 10 HR, 33 RBI .420/.661/1.081

Some would argue that Rizzo is just doing what he did last season when he hit .331 with 34 doubles, 26 home runs, 101 RBI and a 1.056 OPS over 93 games for triple-A Tucson of the Padres organization. They would also point out that he struggled mightily at the major league level hitting just .141 with one home run, nine RBI and a .523 OPS over 49 games and could end up being labeled a quad-A player. Let’s remember, however, he is still just 22 and he is doing it again, for a different team. It’s not like he is just playing well, he is, once again, destroying the baseball. He already has four multi-home run games and is among the leaders at triple-A in all three triple crown categories. A call-up should be coming soon.

11. Nick Castellanos, 3B, Tigers, 20

31 G, .410 AVG, 10 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 22 RBI .456/.571/1.030

The Tigers first-round pick (44th overall) in the 2010 draft, the 6’-4”, 210-pound Castellanos is one of the purest hitters in the minors and currently leads the minor leagues in batting average. At class-A West Michigan last season, he hit .312 with 36 doubles, seven home runs, 76 RBI and an .803 OPS over 135 games. He struck out 26 percent of his plate appearances and needed to show an improvement in that area. Through his 31 games, against tougher competition at class-A advanced Lakeland, he has struck out 15 percent of his plate appearances, a great improvement for a player his age.

10. Wil Myers, OF, Royals, 21

28 G, .339 AVG, 9 2B, 1 3B, 11 HR, 24 RBI, 4 SB .394/.722/1.115

Myers is making up for an injury riddled 2011 that saw him hit just .254 with eight home runs, 49 RBI and a .745 OPS over 99 games at double-A Northwest Arkansas. He started by tearing up the Arizona Fall League this past fall, hitting .360 with  five doubles, five triples, five home runs, 18 RBI and a 1.156 OPS. He also led the league with 20 walks. He has homered in four straight games, and five out of his last six and now leads all double-A players in total home runs. His contact rate has taken a hit this season as he has only drawn 10 walks to 36 strikeouts, but he has shown an advanced plate discipline in the past, so those numbers should even out as the season goes on. A true five-tool prospect.

9. Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pirates, 20

1-2, 1.76 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 33 K, 6 BB, 30.2 IP, 9.7 K/9

With a bump from class-A West Virginia to class-A advanced Bradenton, Taillon has improved his numbers in nearly every category. His strikeouts are up from 9.4 K/9 to 9.7 K/9, his walks are down from 2.1 BB/9 to 1.9 BB/9 and hitters are hitting just .171 against him as compared to .243 last season. He has excellent control of four pitches and his fastball and curveball look exactly the same upon release, only there is a 10 mph difference between the two. Both pitches rate as plus, with the fastball reaching 95 mph. His slider is a potential plus pitch as well, and his change-up is still developing.

8. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Mariners, 19

3-1, 1.71 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 32 K, 10 BB, 31.2 IP, 9.1 K/9

After posting a 2.89 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 113 K/39 BB over 96.2 innings as an 18-year old at class-A Clinton last season, the 6’-4”, 210-pound Walker skipped class-A advanced High Desert and went straight to double-A Jackson. As one of the youngest pitchers in the Southern League, he has been one of the best. He features a mid-90s fastball with late life that he gets from his big frame and a true hammer curve that he uses as a wipe-out pitch. A little tip for opposing hitters out there – don’t catch him at night. Over his three starts in night games, he has yet to allow a run over 17.2 innings this season.

7. Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins, 19

33 G, .303 AVG, 8 2B, 2 3B, 10 HR, 32 RBI .417/.655/1.072

Sano turns 19 today, May 11. On the last day of  being an 18-year old, he had amassed 160 total minor league games, equivalent to a full major league season. Over those 160 games, he hit .299 with 42 doubles, 10 triples, 37 home runs, 120 RBI and a .964 OPS. As amazing as those power numbers are for such a young player, his approach at the plate has been more impressive this season. After walking 47 times over his first 534 plate appearances coming into this season, he has already taken 20 over 144 plate appearances this season – against tougher competition. His strikeout rate is still a little high, but let’s cut the kid some slack. At 6’-3” and 200 pounds, the right-hander has a very similar game to Miguel Cabrera.

6. Archie Bradley, RHP, Diamondbacks, 19

4-1, 2.57 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 38 K, 21 BB, 35 IP, 9.8 K/9

Bradley, the seventh-overall pick in the 2011 draft out of Broken Arrow HS in Oklahoma, has been  nearly untouchable as he has only allowed 13 hits over his 35 innings. He has had two outings of no-hit ball over five innings each. His control is the only thing keeping him from being higher on this list as his 5.4 BB/9 is a bit high and very uncharacteristic of him. With the depth of talent the Diamondbacks have in their organization, they can afford to be patient with the young power arm and move him along slowly. The 6’-4”, 225-pound right-hander features three outstanding pitches, with his curveball being his best. It is a knuckle-curve that sits in the mid 80s and is a true 12-6 wipe-out pitch. His four-seam fastball can reach 98 mph, while his two-seamer sits in the mid 90s with late fade. His change-up is still developing but looks to be a solid offering.

5. Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals, 19

30 G, .331 AVG, 10 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 30 RBI, 2 SB .378/.678/1.056

This kid can flat out hit a baseball. After hitting .386 with 27 doubles, five triples, nine home runs, 62 RBI and a 1.028 OPS over just 78 games at class-A Quad Cities last season, fans couldn’t wait to see his encore performance. The power has come quicker than most thought as he has already topped his home run total from last season in 48 fewer games. He has also done so without sacrificing his batting average, and even more impressively, has seen his strikeout rate drop from 0.15 to 0.125 per plate appearance. At 6’-2” and 180 pounds, the left-hander reminds me of Vladimir Guerrero because of his aggressiveness at the plate, raw power and ability to hit anything thrown at him.

4. Evan Gattis, C, Braves, 25

30 G, .363 AVG, 10 2B, 13 HR, 39 RBI .444/.796/1.240

As fellow writer Mike Viso wrote here, this guy  is like a Josh Hamilton-lite. Not nearly as damaging a past as Hamilton has had, but he still was able to bring himself back from his own rock bottom and emerge as one of the most devastating hitters in the minors this season. After hitting .322 with 22 home runs, 71 RBI and a .986 OPS over 88 games at class-A Rome last season, many put him in the “man amongst boys” category and wanted to see the then-24-year-old do it again against stiffer competition. After dominating at class-A advanced Lynchburg, hitting .385 with nine home runs, 29 RBI and a 1.289 OPS over 21 games, he got a bump to double-A Mississippi. Through nine games there, he has proven to be no fluke as he has continued his dominance, hitting .314 with three doubles, four home runs, ten RBI and a 1.127 OPS. He also has showed a great batting eye drawing 14 walks to just 16 strikeouts over his 30 games. He is a great story and even better player.

3. Billy Hamilton, SS, Reds, 21

28 G, .360 AVG, 7 2B, 4 3B, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 31 SB .433/.523/.956

I read a stat that pretty much sums up Hamilton’s speed. Hamilton has eight infield hits this season and has been thrown out by an infielder 14 times. So, when he hits a ball cleanly to an infielder, he is hitting .364. After becoming the first minor league player since 2001 to swipe 100 bases in a season, stealing 103 bases for Dayton last season, he is on pace to do it again this year. As impressive as that is, what has impressed me more is his improvement in his approach at the plate. After taking 52 walks to a whopping 133 strikeouts over 135 games last season, he realized those numbers won’t jive for a productive leadoff hitter at the next level. Through his 28 games this season, he has drawn 15 walks to just 19 strikeouts.

2. Matt Barnes, RHP, Red Sox, 21

3-0, 0.55 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 54 K, 5 BB, 33.2 IP, 14.5 K/9

The 6’-4”, 200-pound Barnes was the 19th overall selection in the 2011 draft by the Red Sox out of the University of Connecticut. He went 11-5 with a 1.93 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 117 K/33 BB over 121 innings as a senior in 2011 for the Huskies, earning himself Big East Pitcher of the Year. He made his professional debut for class-A Greenville this season and simply outclassed his opponents. Over five starts, he was 2-0 with 42 K/4 BB over 26.2 innings. He only allowed 12 hits. He got a promotion to class-A advanced Salem, and in his one start so far, went six innings, allowing one run on four hits while striking out 12 to no walks. He carries five pitches in his bag with his four-seam fastball being his best, sitting in the mid 90s with late, exploding life. He has excellent command of all his pitches and pitches with a polish beyond his years. Not bad for a pitcher who was undrafted out of high school.

1. Dylan Bundy, RHP, Orioles, 19

0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.20 WHIP, 2 H, 33 K, 2 BB, 20 IP, 14.9 K/9

Those numbers are not typos. What Bundy is doing in his first professional season is unprecedented. The 6’-1”, 210-pound flamethrower has abused opposing batters all season for class-A Delmarva. Of course, this is nothing new to the former prep phenom who was the Gatorade Player of the Year in 2011 after going 11-0 with an 0.20 ERA and 158 strikeouts over 71 innings for Oswasso HS in Oklahoma. Still, to do it against professional hitters is a lot more impressive than 16- and 17-year-olds. With a fastball that can touch 100 mph, a cutter that sits in the low 90s with late movement, a curveball that projects to plus and a developing change-up, his arsenal is lethal and will only get better as he matures. No one has been more impressive than Bundy this season.

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