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Prospects looking good

by Matt Smith

We’re at the point in the off-season when all the major signings have been completed and yet we’re still a few weeks away from players reporting to their respective Spring Training camps.

That makes it a good time to check up on some of the best young players in the Minor Leagues.

MLB.com only paid a passing interest in prospects until a few years ago when Jonathan Mayo was joined by Jim Callis on the site and they started to make a feature of the MLBPipeline section.

They’ve just announced their latest prospect rankings, listing the top 100 young players still with rookie eligibility alongside other breakdowns such as the top 10 prospects at every position and top 30 rankings for every team (the latter to be published soon).

There’s lots of great information to learn from and it’s really well presented, so it’s an excellent resource to tap into. The only minor criticism I have is that they don’t state the level of play in the stat lines for the players (you have to know which league the abbreviation refers to and what level of play that is, High-A, Double-A etc), which would be helpful to have at a glance rather than needing to read through the player comments in full first up every time.

There are other great sources of information out there (the prospect coverage on BaseballProspectus – subscription usually required for the prospect articles - and Fangraphs, MinorLeagueBall.com, Keith Law’s Insider work on ESPN.com – again requiring a subscription etc), but MLBPipeline is by far the most accessible and user-friendly prospect resource and is the place I’d recommend all baseball fans start at when wanting to learn about the young players in the Minor Leagues.

Here are a few initial thoughts from the top 100 rankings.

Those with the biggest pockets still value prospects

The Los Angeles Dodgers have had a strange off-season, but the fact that they have two of the top four prospects (Corey Seager at #1, Julio Urias at #4) is instructive on why they have tended to spend their money on shorter ‘win now’ deals rather than longer-term commitments this winter.

The ‘luxury tax’ on high-revenue teams means that it still makes sense to develop a core group of talented ‘homegrown’ players and then use their financial clout to add extra specific pieces to the puzzle and to sign the young players to contract extensions a few years down the line. We’ve seen Boston take that approach with prospect graduates Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts and the New York Yankees’ out-of-character shyness on the free agency market this off-season is also part of a plan for them to get younger over the next year or so and then spend money on free agents in future.

Texas keep on producing prospects 

The Texas Rangers have had one of the most celebrated farm systems over the past five years or so and their ability to keep re-stocking their ranks from the draft, international signings and picking up prospects from other teams is impressive.

The likes of Rougned Odor and Delino Deshields Jr (the latter picked up from Houston a year ago) played key roles in the Rangers’ charge to the AL West title in 2015, as did the trade for ace pitcher Cole Hamels that was made possible by them having a deep system from which to trade from.

The Rangers have five players in the MLBPipeline top 100 and they ranked top in the ‘Prospect Point’ list, all despite trading away three top 100 prospects to get Hamels.

Phillies rebuild taking shape

The Philadelphia Phillies finally bit the bullet and started a rebuild and that’s given them more prospects in the top 100 (7) than any other team, three of which were the players acquired in the Hamels trade.

The Major League team might not be much fun in the present, but the future does now look bright after a couple of years of directionless dithering.

The next golden era of shortstops?

The Houston Astros’ Carlos Correa and the Cleveland Indians’ Francisco Lindor both took to the Major League with aplomb in 2015 and immediately became two of the best shortstops around.

MLBPipeline’s number one prospect Corey Seager also impressed after making his debut in September for the Dodgers, especially when it came to his fielding. He’s one of six potential shortstops in their top 12 and, as with several of the others, questions remain as to whether he will remain at that position or move to third base.

Seager showed enough promise during his initial Major League appearances to suggest he can stick at the position for a while yet, and if so then we could be witnessing the next great shortstop era since the Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra era of the early 2000’s.

Max Kepler – flying the European flag

Finally, we can’t overlook the one European player on the list. Kepler comes in at number 44 and he made his Major League debut on 27 September last year for the Minnesota Twins.

The German has been pegged as the best European prospect in years since signing a $800k bonus with the Twins back in 2009 and slowly but surely he has developed his game while climbing up the Minor League levels.

Kepler turns 23 on 10 February and hopefully he will keep improving and earn a regular spot on the Twins’ Major League roster as the 2016 season progresses.

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