Beyond The Top 100: Breakout Prospects At Every Position

Jesus Sanchez has above-average grades on his power, speed and arm strength (Photo by Cliff Welch)

As great as it would be if we could guarantee that the players on the Top 100 prospects list will have the 100 best major league careers of anyone currently in the minors, that obviously isn't the case.

There are always players who never rank on a Top 100 list as prospects who go on to become great big leaguers. And, of course, many of the prospects on this year's Top 100 are on the list for the first time after a breakout in 2016.

Here are players at each position—one from the upper levels, one from the lower levels—who did not make the Top 100 but could be valuable major leaguers. Players at the lower levels have a chance to see their stocks grow quickly with breakthrough seasons as they move up the system. These are often higher risk, high reward players who could shoot up into the Top 100 in the near future. The players at the upper levels might lack the same shininess, but they have the traits to be productive major league players and deliver a faster return at the MLB level.

For these purposes, we will classify anyone who played at high Class A or above as an upper-level player, since those prospects are all likely to open 2017 at Double-A or higher. The prospects beneath them on the ladder are the ones we will classify as lower-level prospects.

Catcher

Upper levels: Austin Barnes (Dodgers). Yes, Barnes is already 27, so he's old for a prospect, but his skill set will translate into at least a backup at the major league level with a chance to be a regular if he ever gets the opportunity. His simple swing and understanding of the strike zone have helped him generate a .388 career OBP in the minors, while his receiving skills behind the plate are superb.

Lower levels: David Garcia (Rangers). Garcia didn't get the biggest signing bonus among catchers on the international market last year, but several scouts had him as the top catcher available. He projects to stick at catcher with good feel for hitting from both sides of the plate.

First Base

Upper: Dan Vogelbach (Mariners). I've never cared much how a first baseman looks in his uniform. I care whether they can provide substantial offensive production. That's what Vogelbach, 24, has done throughout the minors, including a .292/.417/.505 season with 23 homers last year in Triple-A. With Anthony Rizzo at first base and no DH in the National League, Vogelbach had nowhere to play on the Cubs, so the Mariners did well to trade for him last summer.

Lower: Pete Alonso (Mets). The lower minors are thin on first base prospects because typically the future first basemen of the major leagues begin their careers at other positions. Injuries slowed Alonso in college, but the Mets' second-round pick has the combination of power and hitting ability that should lead to success at higher levels.

Second Base

Upper: Luis Urias (Padres). Second base is the position to find underrated prospects. It's the players who typically aren't good enough defensively to play shortstop, lack big tools or athleticism, usually aren't big power hitters coming up as prospects and are often smaller-framed players. Urias fits that description, but he's hit well at every level despite being pushed to high Class A Lake Elsinore last year as a 19-year-old. Urias and Athletics second baseman Max Schrock are two second base prospects who could sneak up and become valuable big leaguers.

Lower: Daniel Brito (Phillies). Even when teams think a teenage shortstop in their system is likely to eventually move off the position, they usually keep that player at shortstop as long as possible. The Phillies decided to move Brito to second base already, but he's a legitimate prospect with excellent bat control from the left side who should become a more dangerous hitter once he adds weight to his skinny frame.

Shortstop

Upper: Mauricio Dubon (Brewers). If you're a talented shortstop in the upper minors, you're probably not going to get overlooked. Dubon is a high risk to move from shortstop to second base, but he's a 22-year-old middle infielder with a sharp eye for the strike zone who hit .339/.371/.538 in 62 games last year for Double-A Portland before the Red Sox traded him to Milwaukee in December.

Lower: Andres Gimenez (Mets). Our top three prospects on the 2015 international market were Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Blue Jays), Gimenez and Leody Taveras (Rangers). Guerrero and Taveras are both top 50 prospects and rank No. 1 in their organizations. Gimenez hasn't received the same attention because he's yet to debut in the United States, but his talent is on par with his fellow elite 2015 signings. Gimenez had a terrific Dominican Summer League season and should shoot up prospect rankings next year with an exciting blend of tools and baseball skills.

Third Base

Upper: Jeimer Candelario (Cubs). Candelario started 2016 slowly but finished with a flourish, batting .333/.417/.542 in 76 games after the Cubs sent him to Triple-A Iowa. Candelario does a good job of controlling the strike zone and puts the ball in play consistently with the power to hit at least 20 home runs in his prime.

Lower: Bo Bichette (Blue Jays). I'm cheating here, since Bichette hasn't played any third base as a pro, but despite being a shortstop for now, there's a high likelihood he ends up sliding over to third base. Bichette has the defensive tools to be a good defender at third, but it's his ability at the plate that's the most exciting. After his Rookie-level Gulf Coast League season was cut short due to appendicitis, Bichette has the offensive firepower to skyrocket up lists next year.

Corner Outfield

Upper: Jesse Winker (Reds). You can't ignore that Winker hit just three home runs in 106 games last year in Triple-A. That won't cut it for a left fielder who is below-average defensively. Yet Winker did hit 13 home runs in 2015 and 15 the year before, with the lingering effects of wrist injuries perhaps eating into his power. Still 23, Winker has an outstanding eye for the strike zone and a knack for the barrel, which is why I still think he has a chance to be a middle-of-the-order hitter.

Upper: Nick Williams (Phillies). There's no getting around it—Williams was brutal last season. After making strides with his plate discipline in 2015, Williams reverted to free-swinging mode in 2016. Williams had a strong track record of offensive performance up through Double-A and his athleticism and tools are still intact, so 2017 will be a crucial year to see if 2016 was a sign of more struggles ahead or if Williams can make the adjustments to his approach to unlock his potential.

Lower: Juan Soto (Nationals). Soto was one of the best hitters in the Dominican Republic when the Nationals signed him in 2015. He showed why in 2016 when he demolished the GCL as a 17-year-old. Soto is a pure hitter whose power should continue to increase as he gets stronger. He's a better hitter than Cubs outfielder Eloy Jimenez was at the same age, and Soto could have a similar breakout season soon.

Lower: Alex Kirilloff (Twins). Minnesota's first-round pick (No. 15 overall) in the 2016 draft, Kirilloff got off to a great start by skipping the GCL and winning the MVP award in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. Kirilloff has a well-rounded skill set for a player who projects as a corner outfielder, with a balanced stroke from the left side and plus power, along with the defensive tools to develop into an above-average defender in right field.

Center Field

Upper: Harrison Bader (Cardinals). The Cardinals drafted Bader out of Florida with their third-round pick in 2015, then in 2016 pushed him to Double-A. That's an aggressive assignment, but Bader still hit .283/.351/.497 in 82 games before struggling when the Cardinals promoted him to Triple-A. The swing-and-miss rate creeps into the area of being a concern, but he could be a few small tweaks away from becoming an everyday player.

Lower: Jesus Sanchez (Rays). When the Rays signed Sanchez as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, his best attribute was has lefthanded bat. Now 19, Sanchez is tooled up, with above-average grades on his power, speed and arm strength. After tearing through two levels of Rookie ball last year, Sanchez has the blend of tools, athleticism and hitting ability to fly into the Top 100 next year.

Pitcher

Upper: Ryan Castellani (Rockies). If you're a pitcher in the upper minors and you're not on the Top 100, you probably aren't a future frontline starter. Castellani, coming off a season in which he ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the high class A California League, will probably slot more into the middle or back of a rotation. He's a strike-thrower with groundball tendencies who benefited from a little extra added velocity on his two-seamer last year.

Lower: Forrest Whitley (Astros). Whitley is huge (6-foot-7, 240 pounds), with a power fastball and swing-and-miss breaking stuff that should help him pile up strikeouts. Unlike most giant teenage pitchers, Whitley already has the body control to maintain his delivery and throw strikes well for a 19-year-old.

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