It's safe to rule out Russell Wilson returning to the Rockies anytime soon. After Colorado took a fourth-round flier on him in the 2010 draft and signed him for $200,000, he hit .229/.354/.366 in parts of two minor league seasons. He showed above-average speed and quickness, which made the investment worthwhile, thought the Rockies knew they had to share him with football.
Colorado loves drafting quarterbacks, and that year it took Wilson as well as Clemson's Kyle Parker in the first round (he had just become the first NCAA Division I athlete with 20 touchdown passes and 20 homers in the same school year). Wilson transferred from North Carolina State to Wisconsin for his final season of football last fall, setting Badgers records for passing yards (3,175) and touchdowns (33) while quarterbacking them to the Rose Bowl.
Though he's undersized by NFL standards at 5-foot-11 and 206 pounds, Wilson went in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft to the Seahawks. He has been so impressive during the preseason that Seattle named him its starter over offseason free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn. And presumably, Wilson is done as a professional baseball player.
The Athletics probably will make the biggest jump from one Handbook to the next, though that comes with an asterisk. Oakland placed 26th among the 30 systems in the 2012 Handbook but jumped to seventh when we updated our organization talent rankings in March.
In between, the A's executed the Andrew Bailey and Gio Gonzalez trades, landing Josh Reddick and prospects Raul Alcantara, A.J. Cole, Miles Head, Tom Milone, Derek Norris and Brad Peacock. Since then, they've also bolstered their system with a strong draft headlined by Addison Russell.
If we look at this from the perspective of which system has improved the most during this calendar year, then the Astros come to mind. They had one of the best drafts in June, adding Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr., Nolan Fontana, Brady Rodgers, Rio Ruiz and Brett Phillips, among others. They also acquired 15 prospects in five trades in July, and while those deals added more quantity than true quality, Robbie Grossman, Marc Krauss, Joe Musgrove and Co. will help Houston climb up our organization rankings after we rated its system the 17th-best in the 2012 Handbook.
Taveras' gift for combining consistent contact with prodigious power did come up when we selected our Minor League Player of the Year. (We've made our decision, but I won't give that secret away here.) His strikeout rate is less than half that of the other slugger in the race, Royals outfielder Wil Myers, who has fanned in 24 percent of his plate appearances. The other position-player candidates aren't power hitters, yet Reds shortstop Billy Hamilton (18 percent) and Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar (17 percent) whiff significantly more often than Taveras.
Taveras' combination of contact and power skills are rare. Before him, it had been eight years since anyone posted 250 total bases and a .550 slugging percentage while striking out in 11 percent or fewer of his plate appearances and spending the entire minor league season in Double-A or Triple-A. It actually happened three times in 2004, with Garrett Atkins (helped considerably by the launching pad at Triple-A Colorado Springs), Jason Kubel and Andy Phillips accomplishing the feat. Only Kubel (22) was close to Taveras' age of 20.
Between 2004 and 2012, just two other players put up those numbers in full-season ball: Bubba Bell (fueled by the joke that is high Class A Lancaster) in 2007 and Eric Hosmer in 2010. Hosmer is the best match for Taveras based on age and prospect status, and both should have bright futures. Taveras is the best pure hitter in the minor leagues and may not need much more seasoning.
Though he's having an astonishingly poor .241/.311/.374 season, I still believe in Hosmer and think he'll be the best of this lot. He should produce for both power and average, and he controls the strike zone better than most sluggers. He's just hitting an abnormally high amount of grounders this year (55.2 percent of his batted balls, according to Fangraphs).
Alvarez had a similar issue last season before regaining his power in 2012. He has turned a corner since a reader asked if he was on his way to becoming one of the biggest draft busts ever back in April, though he still is striking out much more than scouts envisioned when he went No. 2 overall in the 2008 draft.
I agree that Alvarez is destined to shift to first base, and I like him more than the rest of the players in this group. I'd rate their futures in this order: Hosmer, Alvarez, Alonso, Davis, Smoak, Wallace, Cooper.