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Breakout Prospects At Every Position

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Jojo Romero (Phillies)

While we published our Top 100 Prospects ranking in January, we’re always looking for players who could leap on to the next Top 100.

With the minor league season opening on Thursday, these are players at each position—one in the upper levels of the minors, one in the lower levels—who are not in the Top 100 Prospects right now but have breakout potential.

The prospects at the lower levels could all jump into the Top 100 by the end of the season. The prospects at the upper levels might graduate before they ever enter a Top 100, but they all have often-overlooked skill sets that could help them turn into better big leaguers than many people expect. Here's a look back at the same breakout picks from last year.

Catcher

Upper: Victor Caratini (Cubs). An offensive-minded catcher, Caratini makes consistent contact with a line-drive approach and spreads the ball around the field with a hit-over-power profile. He’s good enough to develop into a starter, though he will have to be a backup in Chicago with Willson Contreras ahead of him.

Lower: William Contreras (Braves). Speaking of Willson Conteras, his younger brother William is pretty good too. William Contreras has good barrel-to-ball skills, sound strike-zone judgment and makes consistent hard contact, with an approach geared toward right-center field. As Contreras learns to pull more balls with authority, his power numbers could jump as well.

First Base

Upper: A.J. Reed (Astros). Much of his prospect shininess has worn off, but Reed has never had a lengthy opportunity to establish himself against major league pitching despite strong numbers in Triple-A the last two seasons. While some scouts think Reed is a 4A player, Reed’s patience, power and track record should get him an opportunity to prove whether it will translate at the next level.

Lower: Mason Martin (Pirates). After Martin blasted his way to a .307/.457/.630 line with 11 home runs in 39 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last summer, some other clubs were kicking themselves for not bearing down more on Martin, a 17th-round pick last year. While Martin played some outfield, it’s what he does at the plate that will carry his value, with a promising blend of patience and plus power.

Second Base

Upper: Max Schrock (Cardinals). A 13th-round pick of the Nationals in 2015, Schrock is already on his third team following trades to the Athletics and then the Cardinals. Everywhere he’s gone, Schrock has hit, including last year with in the Double-A Texas League where he batted .321/.379/.422 in 106 games. At 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, Schrock doesn’t have any tools that stick out, but his lefthanded hitting ability and plate discipline should continue to carry him.

Lower: Esteury Ruiz (Padres). The Padres plucked Fernando Tatis Jr. out of rookie ball in the White Sox system in the James Shields trade, which has the potential to go down as one of the most lopsided deals in recent memory. They went for another Rookie-level Arizona League prospect last year when they got Ruiz from the Royals. Ruiz’s wiry strength and knack for hitting help him drive the ball with authority in games and make for an exciting offensive upside.

Shortstop

Upper: Lourdes Gurriel (Blue Jays). We can use statistics both to help us estimate a player’s present ability and to predict his future, but in Gurriel’s case, his 2017 numbers obfuscate his true talent level and his potential. After mostly being away from competitive baseball in 2016 before signing with the Blue Jays that October, Gurriel only played in one game last year until June 19 due to injury. A full season where Gurriel has enough time to get his rhythm and timing back should allow a better gauge of what to expect going forward.

Lower: Ronny Mauricio (Mets). Mauricio was Baseball America’s No. 3 international prospect last year when the Mets signed him for $2.1 million out of the Dominican Republic. Since then, Mauricio has grown two inches to 6-foot-4, added much-needed strength to his gangly frame and continues to impress scouts with his ability on both sides of the ball.

Third Base

Upper: Ke’Bryan Hayes (Pirates). Hayes is like a third base prospect from the Bizarro World. While a lot of young third basemen are big raw power guys with limited defensive mobility, Hayes has shown more pure hitting ability than power, along with above-average defense and even strong baserunning skills, with 27 stolen bases in 32 attempts last year. Hayes has to develop more power—he hit just two home runs and slashed .278/.345/.363 in 108 games last year in the high Class A Florida State League—but at 21, he has time for that to mature.

Lower: Nolan Jones (Indians). A second-round pick last year and the Indians’ No. 4 prospect, Jones led the short-season New York-Penn League in OPS last year by hitting .317/.430/.482 in 62 games. Still 19, Jones is 6-foot-3, 195 pounds with a promising combination of patience and power potential from the left side.

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Calvin Mitchell Impresses With Mature Approach

The Pirates believe they got a second-round steal in Mitchell, who dedicated his offseason to improving his power production.

Corner Outfield

Upper: Justin Williams (Rays). Williams hit .301/.364/.489 in 96 games last year in the Double-A Southern League. There’s more potential for Williams to unlock if he can incorporate more lift and leverage into his swing to better unlock his above-average raw power in games.

Upper: Jordan Luplow (Pirates). Overshadowed by Austin Meadows, Luplow had the better 2017 season, batting .302/.381/.527 in 117 games split between Double-A and Triple-A. Much like Kole Calhoun when he was in the minors, Luplow often gets pegged as a fourth outfielder, but he has the talent to develop into an everyday player with his hitting ability, strong grasp of the strike zone and power.

Lower: Jhailyn Ortiz (Phillies). Ortiz stood out for his plus-plus raw power since the Phillies signed him when he was 16, but his hitting ability was a significant question. While he will probably always strike out a lot, Ortiz has developed into a much better hitter over the last two years, batting .302/.401/.560 in 47 games in the short-season New York-Penn League as an 18-year-old. At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Ortiz is built like a first baseman/DH, which could be his future position, although he moves around surprisingly well for his size.

Lower: George Valera (Indians). Baseball America’s No. 5 international prospect last year, Valera has a beautiful lefthanded swing, excellent strike-zone discipline for a 17-year-old and a chance to hit for above-average power as well. He has a lot of similarities to Nationals outfielder Juan Soto, who won the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League MVP award in his pro debut, and Valera has the offensive attributes that should translate to immediate success as well.

Center Field

Upper: Zack Granite (Twins). With Byron Buxton, the Twins already have a potential franchise cornerstone player in center field. So whether it’s in Minnesota or another club, Granite has the ability to be an everyday player. Granite, who hit .338/.392/.475 in 313 plate appearances last year in Triple-A Rochester, shows great barrel awareness, an all-fields approach and a sharp eye for the strike zone with the plus speed to be a stolen-base threat once he gets aboard.

Lower: Cristian Pache (Braves). Pache is already a plus-plus defender. He checks every box you could ask for in a center fielder, with 80 speed, excellent reactions off the bat, sharp routes, tremendous range and an above-average arm. Pache has displayed good bat-to-ball skills—sometimes to his own detriment when he chases out of the strike zone—though getting more loft in his swing will be important if he’s ever going to hit for any power.

Pitcher

Upper: Jojo Romero, LHP (Phillies). Romero breezed through two levels of Class A ball last year, showing impressive polish and better stuff than he did the previous year when the Phillies drafted him in the fourth round. He sits in the low-90s and touches 96, mixing a curveball and changeup that are a tick above-average to plus pitches at times. He’s a potential mid-rotation starter who could be ready to help in Philadelphia by the end of 2018.

Lower: Hans Crouse, RHP (Rangers). The Rangers signed Crouse last year as a second-round draft pick. Quickly, it became clear that he should not have lasted that long. Crouse overmatched hitters in the Rookie-level Arizona League, where he ran his fastball up to 99 mph, flashed a plus slider and filled the strike zone. Crouse carries a lot of risk, but he has frontline starter upside.

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