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With Kris Bryant now in the big leagues, who is the best prospect in baseball?
Coming into the season, the rest of the top five on the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list were Twins center fielder Byron Buxton (No. 2), Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (No. 4) and Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager (No. 5). A month into the minor league season, those are still the three top names to consider. All are healthy, all are producing and all are playing in either Double-A or Triple-A.
After a slow start, Buxton has returned to form in the past week. He was given a couple of days off after slumping to a .180 average on April 22. Since then, Buxton has hit four triples, two home runs and swiped five bases as he's raised his overall numbers to .286/.353/.527.
Correa is hitting .383/.458/.702 with 13 doubles, five home runs and an impressive 11 steals in 11 attempts. He ranks ninth in the minors in batting average, third in RBIs (25), second in hits (36), 10th in on-base percentage and third in slugging percentage.
Seager has earned one of the quickest merit-based promotions of the season. Overall he's hitting .354/.388/.604 with five home runs between Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Buxton and Correa were coming off of significant injuries last season. Buxton had a wrist problem that cost him much of the first half of the season. He missed the second half of the year with a concussion suffered in a frightening outfield collision in his first game in Double-A.
Correa missed the second half of the season after breaking the fibula in his right leg sliding into third base in a game in late June.
To get a sense of what MLB front offices are thinking we polled a cross-section of upper level front office officials to get their viewpoint. No one with the Astros, Dodgers or Twins were polled since it was their teams' players involved in the discussion of who should be No. 1.
The results? It wasn't as close as you may think. Almost without fail, everyone seemed to note that they would be happy to have any one of the three in their organization as all three are elite prospects. One simply voted for all three and as another put it "it's tough to go wrong with any of those guys."
But of the seven officials who voted for a specific player, Correa received five votes with Buxton and Seager each receiving one vote.
So what has teams seeing Correa as the new No. 1? And why has he leapfrogged past Buxton? There is probably a little bit of recency bias, as Correa is having the best start of any hitting prospect in the minors. He was the fourth youngest player in the league when the season began and he currently leads the Texas League in most categories.
But more importantly than what he's doing right now, Correa keeps turning doubts into answers. Coming into this season, he needed to show that he hadn't lost a step when he broke his leg. Being as big as he is (6-foot-4), Correa didn't have much speed and quickness to lose.
When he was in low Class A, there were significant questions about whether he would stay nimble enough to play shortstop. Those questions have largely been answered, as most scouts now believe that he will stay there at least in the short term. He has a plus arm and better first-step quickness than can be expected from a 6-foot-4 shortstop.
Correa is bigger (about 10 pounds heavier) and stronger than he was when he was drafted, but he's also faster. He's broader in the chest than he was when he was picked, but his lower half has remained essentially the same.
A tick below average runner two years ago, Correa now turns in average times consistently. His 11-for-11 steals this year is more a factor of heady base running than blazing speed. But so far the concerns that he will slow down as he matures have not happened, in part because Correa has worked extremely diligently at increasing his flexibility and explosiveness.
Overall Correa projects as a middle-of-the-order hitter who can also play shortstop. And while he's one of the most talented players in the game, he approaches his work with an intensity that belies his talent. He's more likely to stick at shortstop than Seager and he could end up hitting for more power than Buxton.
Again, you can't go wrong with any of the three, but the possibility of a shortstop with a plus hit tool and plus power is hard to disagree with, which is why right now, he'd be the pick to be the best prospect in the minors.