Ask BA: Who Are The Best No. 31 Prospects?
Q: You've produced the Prospect Handbook supplement for eight years now. Since you started the supplement, which No. 31 prospects have had the best careers? Andrew Haynes Fresno, CA BA: Beginning in 2009, Baseball America has compiled a 31st prospect for each team for a supplement that we send to readers who purchase the Prospect Handbook directly from us. There are prospects who are ranked No. 31 once and never make another Prospect Handbook, but there are others who leap from a No. 31 ranking to become significant prospects in future years. Here’s a team of best prospects who were written up in at least one Prospect Handbook Supplement. The year they were in the supplement is included in parentheses. C: Sandy Leon, Nationals (2011): Signed by current Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo (and scouting director Dana Brown) when Rizzo was an assistant GM, Leon made the "31st team" thanks to his defensive ability. "Leon has established himself as one of the finest defensive catchers in the system, though his bat has always lagged behind” is what we wrote in 2011 when we said his bat would limit him to a role as a defense-minded backup. It’s still true. Leon is a useful backup/third catcher thanks to his catch-and-throw skills. Leon has played 75 big league games, but he’s hit .178. 1B: Mitch Moreland, Rangers (2009): Moreland was actually listed as a 1B/LHP because early in his career there was still thought that the two-way star at Mississippi State’s long-term future could be as a hard-throwing (93-94 mph) lefty reliever. He’s ended up proving that he’s made the right choice to stick with hitting. 2B: Cesar Hernandez, Phillies (2010): Hernandez had just made it to the Gulf Coast League when he became the Phillies’ 31st prospect in 2010. He was slated to team with Jonathan Villar in Lakeland for 2010, now both of them are big leaguers with Hernandez moving into an everyday role in 2015. SS: Pete Kozma, Cardinals (2012): Kozma had gotten a brief callup to St. Louis in 2011 because the Cardinals needed a fill-in. His struggles to hit have kept him from making much of a big league impact, but his glove has helped him log 275 big league games already with more to come as he's in camp with the Yankees as a non-roster invitee. 3B: Jorge Polanco, Twins (2010): Polanco had yet to play a pro game when he became the Twins’ 31st prospect in 2010. He’s made it to the big leagues since as a versatile defender with a streaky bat. Third base is not his best position, but he has played it and the hot corner is the weakest position for candidates on this 31st team. OF: Mookie Betts, Red Sox (2013): Easily the best player of this 31st team, Betts is one of the best young players in the game. In 2012 he had slid from shortstop to second base in deference to Deven Marrero and had blossomed at the new position. His 2013 writeup said "he has gotten stronger and hit more hard line drives last season. He has added muscle since signing and has the room to get stronger.” He’s gotten stronger since, which has turned him into a potential star. OF: Juan Lagares, Mets (2013): Lagares had recently shifted from shortstop to the outfield when he ranked 31st in 2013. There were questions about whether his aggressiveness would hinder his ability to handle big league pitching, but his defense and versatility gave him a shot at a reserve outfield job in our minds. His defense has only gotten better since and he’s proven to be a very useful semi-regular for the Mets. OF: Ender Inciarte, Diamondbacks (2014): Inciarte had been nabbed by the Phillies in the 2012 Rule 5 draft and then offered back to Arizona. At the time we saw Inciarte as a future big league reserve outfielder with plus speed, plus range in center field and a solid arm. He’s ended up exceeding our expectations as a solid regular. DH: Justin Ruggiano, Rays (2009): Ruggiano’s big league career has been up and down but at his best, he’s been a very productive big leaguer. He profiled as a fourth outfielder in the 2009 supplement and that’s ended up being a pretty fair assessment. SP: Drew Hutchison, Blue Jays (2010): The Blue Jays signed Hutchison out of a commitment to Stetson because he reminded scouts of Shaun Marcum as an athletic high school pitcher with a low-90s fastball with good sink and run. He’s lived up to that scouting report over the last few years when he’s not been on the disabled list. SP: Zach McAllister, Indians (2011): A frequent member of the Yankees’ and Indians’ Top 10s in previous years, McAllister had struggled mightily in 2010, which led to a trade from the Yankees to the Indians. He bounced back in 2011 and has lived up to what we wrote in the 2011 supplement, which said that he profiled as a back-of-the-rotation starter. SP: Zach Davies, Orioles (2012): One of the better pitching prospects in the Orioles’ system over the past couple of years, but he had yet to throw a pro pitch when he made the 2012 supplement. Davies was traded to the Brewers in last summer's Gerardo Parra deal. Now he heads into 2016 trying to hold onto his spot in the Brewers’ rotation. SP: Taylor Jordan, Nationals (2012): Another back-of-the-rotation starter, Jordan was projected as a 45/High BA Grade/Risk in the 2012 supplement, which signified a potential No. 4/5 starter. So far he’s been a sixth starter on a deep Nationals club as he’s made 15 starts and 18 appearances for the club over the past three seasons. RP: Arquimedes Caminero, Marlins (2010): It took Caminero a while to find enough consistency to be a productive big leaguer, too long for the Marlins as they eventually sold his contract to the Pirates. But the 95-98 mph fastball we wrote about in 2010 is still overpowering, which the Pirates found out in getting a productive season out of him in 2015. RP: J.T. Chargois, Twins (2014): Chargois has yet to reach the big leagues, but he should fix that in 2016 thanks to one of the better arsenals of stuff in the minors. Chargois missed the entire 2013 season with Tommy John surgery. Our report at the time noted that he has improved his changeup to go with his high-90s fastball. RP: Jacob Diekman, Phillies (2012): Much like Sam Dyson below, Diekman made a big impact in the Rangers’ bullpen after being acquired in a trade. Diekman had already shifted to the pen when he made the 31st team in 2012 as a move to a lower slot had given him a new life in the relief role. He’s since made 217 big league appearances as a left-on-left specialist. RP: Sam Dyson, Blue Jays (2011)