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Graduating Prospects Make The Grade In 2016



Julio Urias (Photo by John Williamson) Julio Urias shook off a rough start to become a key part of the Dodgers’ division-winning club (Photo by John Williamson)

The 2015 rookie class was legendary, but the 2016 class was nothing to sneeze at.

Preseason top 10 prospects Corey Seager, Trea Turner and Julio Urias all lived up to the hype in their rookie seasons, while other touted prospects like Byron Buxton and David Dahl turned it up later in the year.

What follows are the top 10 graduated prospects from 2016. These players will never again be eligible for the Prospect Handbook because they have surpassed rookie minimums (130 at-bats, 50 innings), but they should have long, productive careers ahead of them based on their pedigree and what they showed in their first year in the big leagues.

Players are ranked by their newly updated BA Grade, which mimics the 20-80 scouting scale and includes a risk assessment.


1. Corey Seager, ss, Dodgers

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What We Said Then: Seager has all the attributes to hit in the middle of the lineup. He has excellent bat speed with a calm, quiet hitting approach. . . He identifies pitches on which he can inflict damage and has grown into plus raw power, using his hips well and doing an excellent job to generate torque in his swing. He is a potential .300 hitter who could hit 25 or more home runs in his prime . . .While few doubt Seager’s ability at the plate, his future position is an open question. Can he stay at shortstop or does he face a position switch? . . . While other shortstops can make more acrobatic plays, Seager has a good sense of timing and body control, with sound hands and a plus, accurate arm to make the routine plays.

Preseason BA Grade: 70 (Low Risk)

Updated Report: Seager ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball before the season and somehow managed to exceed expectations. He is not only the runaway National League Rookie of the Year but a contender for MVP after finishing in the top 10 in the NL in hits (193), runs (105), average (.308), slugging (.512) and doubles (40) while batting third all year for the NL West champions. Defensively, his range proved sufficient and advanced metrics graded him as no worse than average defensively. He is one of the game’s brightest young stars and already one of its best players.

Updated BA Grade: 75 (Safe)


2. Trea Turner, ss/of, Nationals

Washington Nationals

What We Said Then: Turner’s best tool is his speed, which grades near the top of the scale, but he has also proven himself to be an advanced hitter. He has surprising pop thanks to the bat speed he produces, and he could consistently hit double-digit home runs . . . He profiles best as a top-of-the-order hitter who does a good job of hitting balls into the gaps and getting on base to take advantage of his speed . . . Turner is still polishing his defensive game, but he has the quickness and arm strength to be a solid shortstop. Though he also saw some time at second base for Washington, he projects to be an everyday shortstop.

Preseason BA Grade: 65 (Medium Risk)

Updated Report: Turner’s speed and feel to hit have been every bit as good as advertised, with the 23-year old hitting .342 with 33 stolen bases in 39 tries for the Nationals since joining the club in June. What has been the bigger surprise has been his power, with 13 home runs in 73 games and a .567 slugging percentage. He hasn’t shown what he can do at shortstop yet with Danny Espinosa entrenched there for Washington, but Turner has made highlight-reel catches in center field and been an above-average defender at second base. With his power spike, Turner has become a bona fide five-tool player.

Updated BA Grade: 70 (Medium Risk)


3. Julio Urias, lhp, Dodgers

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What We Said Then: Few teenagers ever have had Urias’ combination of stuff and feel for pitching. With a smooth delivery and easy arm action, he fills the zone with plus or better stuff across the board. His fastball sits at 90-95 mph, touches 97 and plays up because he hides the ball well. His changeup is a swing-and-miss pitch . . . Urias’ plus curveball has sharp break and can be a putaway pitch, one some scouts would like to see him use more . . . He has top-of-the-rotation potential, and his talent and feel have pushed him to the cusp of the majors. He just has to prove he can handle a more robust workload.

Preseason BA Grade: 70 (Medium Risk)

Updated Report: Urias made his major league debut in May at age 19, becoming the youngest player to pitch in the majors since Felix Hernandez in 2005 and the youngest Dodgers pitcher since Fernando Valenzuela in 1980. After struggling initially, Urias recorded a 2.73 ERA with 77 strikeouts over his final 69.1 innings as he moved between the rotation and bullpen with the Dodgers keeping an eye on his workload. His stuff and results already indicate he has frontline potential. Now he has to prove he is durable enough to hold up over a starter’s workload.

Updated BA Grade: 70 (Medium Risk)


4. Gary Sanchez, c, Yankees

Yankees

What We Said Then: Sanchez profiles as a frontline catcher with an extremely strong arm that produces pop times of 1.8 seconds on throws to second base and plenty of raw power . . . He performed well offensively as he started using the whole field more, and scouts noted he played with more energy. He still has some polish to add as a receiver and could stand to be a little more selective at the plate, but he’s come a long way in the last 12 months . . . If (starter Brian) McCann should go down with an injury, the Yankees would be comfortable giving Sanchez the lion’s share of the playing time in his stead.

Preseason BA Grade: 60 (High Risk)

Updated Report: Sanchez didn’t need a McCann injury to force his way into the lineup. The Yankees released Alex Rodriguez and traded Carlos Beltran in part to free up the DH spot for McCann so that Sanchez could be called up, and he responded with a historic performance. Sanchez hit 19 homers in 43 games, the fastest any player has ever his hit first 19 career homers, while also showing feel to hit and discerning batting eye that resulted in a line of .299/.376/.657. Behind the plate he threw out 41 percent of basestealers, though he struggled to block balls in the dirt (six passed balls, 15 wild pitches).

Updated BA Grade: 70 (Medium Risk)


5. Alex Bregman, 3b/ss, Astros

Astros

What We Said Then: Blessed with excellent hand-eye coordination and a simple, level swing, Bregman has plenty of bat speed and is equally comfortable yanking the ball down the left-field line or staying back and stinging a ball to the right-field wall. . . His range is average at best and his arm is only average as well, but he anticipates exceptionally well and plays with a smooth unruffled grace . . . At worst, Bregman should be an everyday second baseman who hits for average with occasional power.

Preseason BA Grade: 60 (High Risk)

Updated Report: Bregman blitzed through the minors and made his big league debut on July 25, less than 14 months after being drafted. After a miserable 2-for-38 start he hit his stride, batting .313/.354/.577 in 39 games the rest of the way. In both the majors and minors, Bregman showed the ability to drive the ball to all fields and handle major league pitching like a veteran despite being one year removed from college. He struggled some at third base, a new position for the natural shortstop, but he held his own playing for a contending team in the heat of a pennant race.

Updated BA Grade: 65 (Medium Risk)


6. Byron Buxton, of, Twins

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What We Said Then: Considered one of the game’s top prospects since his breakout 2013 season, Buxton is eager to justify that lofty reputation with similar production in the big leagues. While it’s unfair to say he flopped in his first crack at the majors, Buxton struggled to recognize high-end breaking stuff and struck out in a club-record 21 straight games on either side of his disabled-list stint . . . Using quick hands and strong wrists, Buxton generates tremendous bat speed and keeps the bat in the zone longer than most. . . In the field, Buxton has double-plus arm strength and range and chases down balls in both gaps with relative ease.

Preseason BA Grade: 70 (Medium Risk)

Updated Report: Buxton once again flopped in his first callup to the big leagues this year and the Twins demoted him to Triple-A for the third time in two seasons. However, he brought back the leg kick from his youth and finally looked like the player he was projected to be when he returned to Minnesota in September, hitting .287/357/.687 with nine home runs in 29 games while making numerous jaw-dropping defensive plays in center field. He also is one of the fastest players in the majors with one of the best outfield arms. Buxton’s general lack of plate discipline continued to be an issue with 118 strikeouts against just 23 walks, but his September showing was a promising glimpse of what he can be.

Updated BA Grade: 70 (High Risk)


7. David Dahl, of, Rockies

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What We Said Then: Dahl has the potential to be a five-tool center fielder. His quick hands allow him to stay inside the ball, and he sprays line drives with a level lefthanded swing through the strike zone . . . Some evaluators project Dahl to hit 20-25 homers, but at present his power is geared more for the gaps. His above-average speed, instincts, arm strength and accuracy make him an excellent defensive center fielder . . . He should reach Triple-A Albuquerque in 2016, but he must stay healthy to deliver on his star-caliber talent.

Preseason BA Grade: 60 (High Risk)

Updated Report: Dahl finally stayed healthy and did reach Triple-A Albuquerque—for just 16 games, after which he was called up to the majors and showed himself to be a premier talent. Dahl tied a major league record with a hit in 17 straight games to begin his career and finished with a .315/.359/.500 batting line with seven homers in in 63 games. He played left field with Charlie Blackmon entrenched in center field and struggled a bit, but he handled center in limited action there. He raked even away from Coors Field, hitting .291/.333/.500, and stole five bases in as many tries.

UPDATED BA GRADE: 60 (Medium Risk)


8. Nomar Mazara, of, Rangers

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What We Said Then: Mazara has justified the faith of the Rangers’ international scouts, becoming one of the top offensive prospects in baseball who draws praise for both his power and hitting ability . . . He’s a smart, mature hitter with a good plan at the plate and the ability to make adjustments within an at-bat. Mazara has good bat control, uses the whole field and has the plus raw power to go deep to any part of the park . . .Once a liability in the outfield, Mazara has become a reliable defender in right field, even if he’s a well below-average runner who lacks first-step quickness and is still prone to youthful mistakes. His best defensive tool is a plus arm with precise accuracy.

Preseason BA Grade: 60 (Medium Risk)

Updated Report: Mazara joined the Rangers three days into the season when Shin-Soo Choo went down with a calf strain and carved out a permanent role in the outfield. He became a mainstay in the Rangers order and hit .266/.320/.419 with 20 homers and 64 RBIs to become one of the most productive rookies in the American League. He handled the defensive demands of right field and even made seven outfield assists. Mazara is an all-around contributor for a pennant contender at age 21, and his future appears bright.

UPDATED BA GRADE: 60 (Medium Risk)


9. Michael Fulmer, rhp, Tigers

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What We Said Then: While the promise and potential was always evident, the results never quite matched the pure stuff until 2015, when Fulmer led the Eastern League in ERA (2.12) and strikeouts per nine innings (8.9) and was named the league’s pitcher of the year . . . He has a big, physical frame and has two plus pitches, starting with a fastball that parks at 91-94 mph and can reach 97 . . . Fulmer can generate weak contact early in the count with his heavy fastball or he can put hitters away when he gets to two strikes by using his power slider, a plus pitch with sharp, two-plane break and good depth. Fulmer mostly relies on those two pitches, but he mixes in an occasional curveball along with a fringe-average changeup.

Preseason BA Grade: 55 (Medium Risk)

Updated Report: Fulmer made the jump to the majors after just three Triple-A starts and quickly became the leading candidate for AL Rookie of the Year. His mid-90s fastball and slider were excellent as predicted— opposing batters hit just .233 and .206 against those two pitches, respectively—but his changeup played much better than expected. That development helped Fulmer go 11-7, 3.06 and turned him into a front-of-the-rotation stalwart with three strong pitches, including two secondary pitches that miss bats.

UPDATED BA GRADE: 60 (Medium Risk)


10. Trevor Story, ss, Rockies

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What We Said Then: Story possesses quick hands and tremendous bat speed, flashing at least average power with a slight uppercut in his swing . . . At times he expands the strike zone, particularly against breaking balls, and he is prone to over-swinging. The high strikeouts won’t go away, but he did swing and miss less in 2015 thanks to a more focused gap-to-gap approach and better selectivity . . . Story is a solid-average shortstop with enough arm for the position . . . He projects as an offensive middle infielder or third baseman.

Preseason BA Grade: 50 (Medium Risk)

Updated Report: Story opened his rookie season on a historic power surge, homering in his first four games and jumping out to the NL rookie lead with 27 homers before suffering a season-ending thumb injury on July 30. At that time, he was on pace for 45 home runs and was showing legitimate power outside of Coors Field, with a .454 slugging percentage in 51 road games. He more than capably handled the defensive demands of shortstop, where his range, instincts and arm stand out. Story struck out 31 percent of the time, but shortstop value and top-of-the-scale power make him a rare talent.

UPDATED BA GRADE: 60 (Medium Risk)


Quick Hits

Willson Contreras, c/of, Cubs. Contreras showed power, patience and defensive versatility with quality play behind the plate and in left field.

Preseason BA Grade: 50 (Medium Risk)

Updated BA Grade: 60 (Medium Risk)

Aledmys Diaz, ss, Cardinals. Diaz hit .300 with 17 home runs and an .859 OPS while playing shortstop every day.

Preseason BA Grade: 45 (Medium risk)

Updated BA Grade: 55 (Medium Risk)

Sean Manaea, lhp, Athletics. Manaea blossomed as the year went on, recording a 2.44 ERA and .218 opponent average over his final 14 outings.

Preseason BA Grade: 55 (Medium risk)

Updated BA Grade: 60 (Medium risk)

Blake Snell, lhp, Rays. The 2015 BA Minor League Player of the Year struggled with his command but showed terrific stuff.

Preseason BA Grade: 65 (Medium risk)

Updated BA Grade: 65 (Medium risk)

Max Kepler, of, Twins. Kepler displayed excellent defense and power, but inconsistent contact resulted in a .235/.309/.424 batting line.

Preseason BA Grade: 60 (High risk)

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Updated BA Grade: 60 (High risk)

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