Ranking Prospect Handbook Cover Subjects

In his fifth appearance in the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Twins third base prospect Miguel Sano has joined a small group, becoming the cover subject for the 2014 edition, which is now available. With the 14th Handbook now in our hands and shipping to customers, we decided to rank the previous players who have appeared on the cover, as well as look at some of the other prospects who could have (and maybe should have) been possible cover picks.

12. Jeremy Hermida, of (2006)

Like Ben Grieve before him, Jeremy Hermida looked like he was on pace to have a productive long-term big league career, particularly after some early major league success. And then his career fell off a cliff. He has continued to labor mostly in Triple-A but has not been a significant big league contributor since 2009.

What We Said At The Time: “Hermida was able to add more lift to his swing and started to pull inside pitches for power. His slight frame continued to fill out. His biggest selling point, though, is a tremendous ability to control the strike zone. As his power increased and his reputation spread, Southern League pitchers routinely avoided throwing him strikes. To his credit, Hermida refused to expand his zone and piled up the third-highest walk total in the minors. For the first time as a pro, he walked more than he struck out.”

What Happened: If Corey Patterson is an example of a prospect whose free-swinging ways caught up to him, Hermida is proof that controlling the strike zone alone isn’t a clear path to stardom. Hermida walked 264 times and struck out 314 times in 1,728 plate appearances on his path to the big leagues. He looked like a budding star when he hit .296/.369/.501 in 2007, his second full pro season as a 23-year-old. Just three seasons later, however, he was a part-time player, and by age 27 he was a spare part spending most of his time in Triple-A.

What Might Have Been: Justin Upton, the No. 2 prospect in the game would have been a fine choice, as would have No. 8 prospect Justin Verlander.

11. Delmon Young, of (2005)

Oh Delmon, where did your athleticism go? Plate discipline issues stood in the way of him tapping into his power potential, but if you’re looking at Young’s career trajectory, nothing says more than a player who once was a defensive force becoming a player best used as a DH.

What We Said At The Time: “Young packs a punch from the right side of the plate with a powerful and consistent stroke. His knowledge of the strike zone is advanced for his age, and coupled with his bat control allows him to make repeated hard contact. He’s strong enough that he doesn’t have to pull balls to drive them out of the park.”

What Happened:  Young was expected to hit for both average and power, and he showed average speed and solid range in right field to go with an excellent arm. Just a few years into his big league career, he had gained significant weight, lost his range and also his feel for playing the outfield. Off-field issues, from throwing a bat at an umpire in the minor leagues to making an anti-Semitic slur while in the majors, also helped him wear out his welcome. He went from potential cornerstone in Tampa Bay to a journeyman who has played with the Twins, Tigers and Phillies before a return cameo with the Rays last season. He signed in January with the Orioles. Mitigating an otherwise disappointing career has been a .538 career postseason slugging percentage, including nine home runs.

What Might Have Been: No. 1 prospect Joe Mauer had already been a cover boy, but No. 2 prospect Felix Hernandez would have ended up being a much better choice.

10. Corey Patterson, of (2001)

As with all of the players at the bottom of the list, our first Prospect Handbook cover boy never really lived up to the expectations placed on him. Patterson was one of a slew of Cubs prospects at the start of the 21st century who didn’t live up to the hype, along with such players as righthanders Juan Cruz and Angel Guzman and first baseman Hee Seop Choi.

What We Said At The Time: “Patterson offers the best combination of athleticism and baseball skills of any prospect in the game. He’s the best hitter, the fastest runner and the top outfield defender in the organization. His other two tools, power and arm strength, are both above-average.”

What Happened: Patterson offered glimpses of his potential throughout his 12-year career. He had legitimate power, played a solid center field and could run. But he never overcame his free swinging, striking out in 21 percent of his plate appearances while walking in fewer than 5 percent. After the Cubs traded him before the 2006 season, he has bounced around to 10 other organizations and shifted between Triple-A and major league backup roles.

What Might Have Been: Picking either No. 1 prospect Josh Hamilton or No. 3 prospect Josh Beckett (though he ended up on the cover the following year) would have been a better choice for the long-term. Tabbing No. 9 prospect Ichiro Suzuki would have been an interesting unconventional pick. Picking Albert Pujols (No. 42) would have required supernatural clairvoyance.

9. Phil Hughes, rhp (2007)

It’s a scouting axiom that the payoff for drafting a high school righthander in the first round usually comes for the next general manager, because it takes them that long to develop. Hughes has taken this adage to the extreme, showing flashes in six years with the Yankees and now trying to prove he can be a reliable middle-of-the-rotation starter with the Twins.

What We Said At The Time: “Hughes has it all, with the combination of stuff, feel and command to profile as a No. 1 starter. In the words of one club official, ‘His stuff and his command keep getting better,’ and they were pretty good to begin with. Hughes sits at 91-95 mph with his four-seam fastball and touches 96. He can throw quality strikes with either his four-seamer or his upper-80s two-seamer. As he gains experience, his excellent control (his career K-BB ratio is 269-54) should evolve into above-average command.”

What Happened: Hughes has been a solid big league starter at times, but he has never shown the stuff to be an ace and in recent years his career has been headed in the wrong direction, with a 4-14, 5.19 mark last year. He made it into the sixth inning in just over half of his starts last season.

What Might Have Been: Ideally, we’d have swapped Hughes with the inset photo of then-Diamondbacks outfielder Carlos Gonzalez or Reds righthander Homer Bailey. He also took a while to develop, but he has shown more dominant form, including a pair of no-hitters. No. 7 prospect Evan Longoria would have been a nice choice.

8. Jason Heyward, of (2010)

Blessed with an ideal corner outfielder’s frame, an excellent batting eye and plus power, Heyward was the top prospect in the game going into the 2010 season.

What We Said At The Time: “Heyward has outstanding bat speed, uses the entire field well and can drive the ball to the opposite field. His short swing is a bit unorthodox, but it works and he should hit for a high average with a lot of power. Despite standing 6-foot-4, Heyward has solid-average speed. He has outstanding instincts on the basepaths and plus range in right field. His impressive body control allows him to make diving catches with relative ease, and his plus arm is one of the strongest in the minors with velocity, carry and accuracy on his throws.”

What Happened: Heyward has been a big leaguer for four seasons, but it feels like we are still waiting to see just how good he can be. Is he the player who put together an outstanding rookie year, the one who fell apart the next year, or the one who has been good but not great the past two seasons? Even if Heyward is the player of the last two years, that makes him a valuable one, and if he can stay healthy he could be a superstar.

What Might Have Been: Heyward was a fine choice, but No. 2 prospect Stephen Strasburg or No. 3 prospect Giancarlo Stanton would also have been excellent picks.

7. Matt Wieters, c (2009)

Wieters hasn’t won a Nobel Prize yet, so it’s fair to say he hasn’t lived up to Orioles fans’ expectations. He has had to be content with being an all-star and Gold Glove catcher, albeit one who hasn’t yet hit for the average he was expected to.

What We Said At The Time: “Wieters is an above-average hitter with above-average power, combining patience with the bat speed to drive pitches out of any part of the park. He’s an amazingly polished offensive player with great pitch recognition and a knack for getting himself into favorable counts. And don’t forget he’s a switch-hitter. Behind the plate, he shows agility, soft hands and the strong arm that made him a quality pitcher. He threw out 46 percent of base-stealers in the Carolina League, and 32 percent in the Eastern League. He also earned high marks for his handling of pitchers and his game-calling skills.”

What Happened: Even if he hasn’t reached the loftiest of his expectations, Wieters is one of the better catchers in the American League and has been a stalwart for the Orioles. He has an excellent glove, hits for power and is reliable, playing in at least 130 games in each of the past four seasons.

What Might Have Been: As good as Wieters has been, swapping the No. 1 prospect (Wieters) for the No. 2 prospect (David Price, who was an inset photo) would have been even better.

6. Jay Bruce, of (2008)

The high school outfield draft class of 2005 is one to remember with Justin UptonAndrew McCutchenColby Rasmus and Cameron Maybin joining Bruce in the first round. McCutchen has had the best career so far, but Bruce and Upton could still have something to say about that.

What We Said At The Time: “Bruce combines tremendous bat speed with an excellent swing plane. He has a knack for deciphering and correcting flaws in his swing between at-bats and sometimes even between pitches. He has the natural ability to hit for average and power even if he didn’t work hard, but he does have the drive of a baseball rat–he’s the first person to the ballpark and the last to leave. Every one of Bruce’s tools is better than average. On the 20-80 scouting scale, his bat rates as a 65, his power as a 65-70, his speed as a 55, his defense in center field as a 55 (60 if he moves to right field) and his arm as a 60.”

What Happened: Bruce has turned into a reliable power hitter in the middle of the Reds’ lineup. He hasn’t hit for the average that was once expected of him, but as a solid defender in right field who has topped 30 home runs in each of the past three seasons, he’s a two-time all-star whose best may still be to come.

What Might Have Been: No. 2 prospect Evan Longoria once again would have been a fine cover choice. Clayton Kershaw, the game’s No. 7 prospect at the time and one of the insets on this cover, would have been a great call.

5. Josh Beckett, rhp (2002)

Beckett’s combination of size, outstanding stuff and dominating mound demeanor made him the quintessential hard-throwing righthanded pitching prospect.

What We Said Then: “Beckett has a prototypical power pitcher’s build and a true No. 1 starter’s repertoire and makeup. His four-seam fastball can touch 97 mph, but he’d rather pitch at 93-94 and get easy outs with his sinker. He has a dazzling 12-to-6 curveball and a plus changeup with excellent arm speed and deception.”

What Happened: In the long line of hard-throwing Texas righthanders, Beckett was a perfect embodiment of the type. The first high school righthander to be drafted as high as second overall in 20 years, Beckett has helped two teams (the 2003 Marlins and 2007 Red Sox) to World Series titles and has been dominant at his best. He finished second in American League Cy Young Award voting in ’07 and has 132 career wins, though he has been hurt and/or ineffective over the last two years.

What Might Have Been: Cubs righthander Mark Prior, one spot behind Beckett on the Top 100 that year, would have been the other obvious choice at the time, but Beckett was obviously the better choice.

4. Bryce Harper, of (2011)

Harper made the cover in 2011, has spent two years in the big leagues and he’s still younger than Mark AppelKris Bryant and Jonathan Gray–the top three college prospects in last year’s draft class.

What We Said Then: “Many evaluators think Harper will lose a step and wind up in right field once he matures physically, though the Nationals believe he has a chance to stick in center field. He’s a tireless worker who loves to play the game, though sometimes his cockiness rubs opponents the wrong way. Harper looks like a surefire superstar in the making, and he has a very real chance to develop into the best all-around player in baseball.”

What’s Happened: Harper put together one of the best seasons ever seen from a 19-year-old big leaguer. Even though his 2013 season was marred by injuries, he improved his batting average, on-base and slugging and is on pace to be one of baseball’s best for years to come.

What Might Have Been: Considering Mike Trout ended up on the next year’s cover, there’s no better choice.

3. Mark Teixeira, 3b (2003)

Teixeira was part of a strong Rangers farm system and ended up being a productive player for them, but he may have been even more valuable in trade, as he went to the Braves in 2007 and Texas received Elvis AndrusMatt HarrisonJarrod Saltalamacchia and Neftali Feliz in return.

What We Said Then: “Teixeira’s tools, approach and strength make him the best hitting prospect in the minor leagues. He has well above-average power–40 homers a year is no stretch–and hitting ability from both sides of the plate, in part because he’s in tune with his abilities and has sound fundamentals.”

What Happened: Teixiera did reach the 40-home run mark as predicted—he hit 43 in his best year—but his consistency has been even more notable. He hit at least 30 home runs in eight consecutive seasons. He has battled injuries with the Yankees the last two years but still is a career .278/.368/.525 hitter with 341 home runs and five Gold Gloves.

What Might Have Been: No. 3 prospect Jose Reyes has been a lineup catalyst for years, but it’s hard to argue he would be a better pick than Teixeira.

2. Joe Mauer, c (2004)

If you were designing a catcher prospect, it would be hard to top Mauer. A high school quarterback who turned down a scholarship to Florida State to sign with the Twins, Mauer combined the hitting ability of a first baseman with Gold Glove ability behind the plate.

What We Said Then: “Mauer combines a picture-perfect lefthanded stroke with impeccable strike-zone judgment to generate high batting averages and on-base percentages. His natural approach and swing path lend themselves more to a batting title than a home run crown. He’s geared to hit line drives back up the middle and toward left-center. Defensively, Mauer had no equals at the minor league level. Some scouts say he’ll be the best receiver in the American League when he debuts in April. Despite his size, Mauer is an expert at blocking pitches with his soft hands and moves quickly on balls in front of the plate. Outstanding arm strength gives him a third present 80 tool on the 20-80 scouting scale to go with his bat and his defensive ability.”

What Happened: Mauer has lived up to every expectation. He’s one of the best catchers of the 21st century and arguably one of the best catchers of all time. He was the 2009 American League MVP and has won three batting titles and three Gold Gloves. He will spend less time behind the plate going forward, which should extend his career.

What Might Have Been: Mauer was the clear choice. Prince Fielder (No. 10) would have been a nice pick as well, but Mauer was the No. 1 prospect and has been the best player in that year’s prospect class.

1. Mike Trout, of (2012)

Trout blew scouts away with his performance in the 2010 Futures Game, where he showed outstanding speed while wowing in batting practice. A year and a half later, he was the clear choice to go on the cover.

What We Said Then: “Strong, broad-shouldered and built like a football safety, Trout has a high baseball IQ and full-throttle approach that allow him to get the absolute most out of his tools, four of which grade as future pluses or better. Some scouts project Trout as an annual .300 hitter with 25-plus homers and 40-plus steals. He completes the five-tool picture with plus range in center field, where he reads the ball well off the bat, and an accurate, if only average, arm.”

What Happened: As good as Trout was projected to be, he has been even better. He has finished second to Miguel Cabrera in American League MVP voting in each of his full major league seasons, but first in Wins Above Replacement thanks to his exceptional defensive ability. The best all-around player in the game, he’ll play most of next season as a 22-year-old.

What Might Have Been: Because Harper had already been on a cover, Rays lefthander Matt Moore was the other option. Moore may end up as an ace, but no one would have been a better pick than Trout.

Wait And See

Considering he hasn’t had a full season in the big leagues yet, it’s unfair to rank Profar, last year’s cover subject.

Jurickson Profar, ss (2013)

Profar’s exuberant smile was the cover of last year’s Handbook. He didn’t dazzle in his big league debut last year, but he was playing the whole year as a 20-year-old. With second base cleared for him going forward, Profar still is on track to be an impact middle infielder with a great glove and an above-average bat.

What We Said Then: “To paraphrase one Rangers instructor, Profar may not have the most power, the most speed or the strongest arm on the field, but typically he’s the best player out there. A natural righthanded hitter, he learned to switch-hit after signing and now shows uncommon bat speed from both sides of the plate, lending him more power than his lean 6-foot frame suggests. Profar surprises some opponents with his pop–which is above-average for a middle infielder–but he may have to tone down his swing to maximize his overall production. He takes a disciplined approach to hitting, with strong knowledge of the strike zone that ought to make him a consistent .300 hitter in his prime.”

What’s Happened: It’s too soon to know what’s going to become of Profar, but the Rangers are confident enough in his potential to hand him the second base job for 2014.

Who Else Could Have Been On The Cover: American League Rookie of the Year Wil Myers was No. 4 on the Top 100 Prospects list, but we’re not hedging our bets at this point.