Every now and then a prospect has the kind of season where they make “the leap"--from suspect to prospect. A one-time organization player proves he is a legitimate prospect; the projected big league backup proves he is worth considering as a future starter, or a solid prospect proves he's one of the better prospects in the game.
Here are 10 players who have made that prospect leap this year. This is by no means a comprehensive list of who has raised their stock this season. But it is a good snapshot of 10 players who have caught scouts’ attention for all the right reasons.
No one in the top 50 rankings in the most recent Baseball America Top 100 is included on this list. Ronald Acuna, Bo Bichette, Walker Buehler and Michael Kopech have all made the leap but considering they all now rank among the top 50 prospects in baseball, we're assuming that their jumps are self-evident. Also 2016 first-round picks such as Forrest Whitley and Joey Wentz carried very high expectations. They have exceeded those expectations, but this list is made up of players who have come from further away.
So we're digging a little deeper. There are a few Top 100 Prospects on the list, but the majority of this list is prospects who were seen as far from the Top 100 when the season began, but will be in strong consideration for the Top 100 this offseason.
1. Austin Hays • OF • Orioles
Hays hit three home runs as a sophomore at Jacksonville, then blossomed to hit 16 as a junior. He's shown this year that last year's collegiate power boost was a true step forward as he's become the standout of the Orioles' farm system. He ranks third in the minors with 31 home runs, and his numbers have only gotten better since he was promoted to Double-A Bowie.
Hays doesn't walk a lot (four percent of plate appearances), but he also doesn't strike out much (15 percent) for a hitter with such power. With legitimate defensive skills and a center fielder's range as well as a right fielder's arm, Hays looks like a future cornerstone in the Orioles outfield. It's been a blistering ascent for the 2016 third-round pick. He ranked No. 99 on our Midseason Top 100 that was compiled in late June/early July. If we were re-ranking right now, he'd be 50-plus spots higher.
2. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Padres
Tatis looked like a promising-but-young shortstop in the first month or two of the Midwest League season. He'd show flashes of greatness, but a pitcher with a plan could generally figure out a way to send him back to the dugout.
But the great ones catch on fast, and Tatis has caught up and passed those pitchers who could toy with him in April. Now he's showing plus power, athleticism and most importantly a solid plan at the plate, which has made him one of the toughest outs in the league. He's now been promoted to Double-A San Antonio to end the season.
Not all of Padres general manager A.J. Preller's trades have worked out, but getting Tatis in a deal that sent well-past-his-prime righthander James Shields to the White Sox last year might end up as one of the heists of the decade. The White Sox will pay Shields $10 million to pitch for them next year on the heels of his 6-16, 6.44 record in 35 starts with them so far. In return the Padres got one of the better prospects in baseball and the best hitter in the minors in the second half of the season.