It happens every year in minor league baseball. A talented player who has gone widely unrecognized starts putting up eye-popping numbers catching the attention of fans, scouts and front offices across the country.
In a game where such an emphasis is put on scouting and developing and in an era where scouting reports, video reports and more are available at the click of a button; one would think that breakout players wouldn't catch us by surprise. But it keeps happening.
In 2012, the two biggest breakout players in all of minor league baseball played for the West Virginia Power, the Low-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco jumped on the scene with the power/speed mixed that sent pro scouts to Charleston all summer long.
Why a player breaks out is usually different for each guy. Sometimes it isn't so much of a breakout as it is a prospect that was overlooked for a player that was drafted higher or got a larger signing bonus. Other times, in the case of Hanson and Polanco last year, it's an international player that signed very young and struggled in their age 16, 17 and 18 seasons, causing people to overlook them before their careers even have a chance to get going.
Maybe the most obvious choice for the 2013 version of this list is again in West Virginia playing for the Power.
Stetson Allie, 22, has put up some of the most impressive offensive numbers of any player in the minors. He may also have the most interesting path to where he is now of any player. It is not often that you are going to be able to call a second-round pick that received a $2.25 million signing bonus a sleeper, but this is definitely a rare case.
In 2012, Allie was in the Low-A South Atlantic League, but as a flame throwing starter pitcher. Although his fastball was topping out at 98 MPH, Allie had absolutely nothing else going for him. The right hander managed to walk eight batters in just two-thirds of an inning and could not even warm up in the bullpen without balls going on the field of play, in the stands and pretty much every where else except where the catcher was lined up. Needless to say Allie was sent down to extended spring training in a hurry to work on his control, but it was there the Pirates made the unexpected move to turn Allie into a corner infielder.
Allie played in the Gulf Coast League and didn't produce any numbers worth talking about, so it was fair to think that his position player career would leave him as mostly an organizational guy. However, Allie's 2013 has been nothing short of unbelievable. As of May 13, Allie is hitting .320/.407/.570 with nine home runs. His ability to hit for power and average while still showing great patience at the plate is the thing that quality first base prospects are made of. The one worrisome part of Allie's game has been the strikeouts. So far, Allie has 44 strikeouts in just 150 plate appearances, a number that will need to decrease significantly if he hopes to maintain the high average at upper levels.
Another power hitter making a case for inclusion in Top 100 lists is Adam Walker of the Minnesota Twins. While it may be a stretch to call Walker a breakout prospect after being drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft, he is proving that his power numbers are among the best in the game.
Walker is currently tied for the Midwest League lead with nine home runs while also among the league leaders in batting average at .321. Perhaps the most amazing part of it all is how under the radar Walker is due to his teammate in Cedar Rapids, Byron Buxton, making a case for being the top prospect in all of baseball.
The power numbers are not at a surprise, as many scouts regarded Walker as the top power prospect in the 2012 draft. Walker still is far from a polished prospect; he hasn't found his long term defensive home and maybe most importantly his walk rate is sitting at just 5.7 percent. If Walker continues with the rate of power he has shown so far, no problem will be able to hold his bat out of a lineup.
On the pitching side of things, the Pirates' Nick Kingham is looking very strong early on for the High-A Bradenton Marauders. Kingham was a fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft and has had success at each level, but in 2013 Kingham looks like he is taking the next step.
Largely overshadowed by top prospects Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole in the organization, the big right-hander would be the top pitching prospect in other organizations. Kingham is currently leading the Florida State League in strikeouts with 47 in 39.2 innings. His 2.95 ERA is very impressive by itself, but considering that the Marauders' infield defense may be the worst in the minors, Kingham's dominance is even more impressive.
At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, Kingham, 21, has the perfect build for a pitcher. He throws a mid-90s fastball and uses a power curve as his main strikeout pitch. He will mix in a changeup every now and then to left-handed hitters. The power curve is easily his best pitch and might be among the best in the minors.
Garin Cecchini, 22, is an infielder in the Red Sox organization and is currently playing at High-A Salem. Until this year, Cecchini was mainly known for his ability to steal bases, which included 51 a season ago in the South Atlantic League.
So far in the 2013 season, Cecchini has proven he is more than just a solid baserunner as he has put it all together offensively. He has a line of .376/.471/.675 with 12 doubles, four triples, five home runs and 11 stolen bases.
The increase in power numbers is what really jumps out for Cecchini with 21 extra-base hits in 117 at-bats. Maintaining power numbers will be a crucial factor in determining if Cecchini is a top-100 prospect in baseball or one of the next tier of players.