The most common question I get asked these days: "What's wrong with Billy Hamilton?" The short answer? Nothing. Hamilton has become one of the first casualties of the post-Bryce Harper and Mike Trout era in prospecting. Because Harper and Trout came to the big leagues and had immediate, outlandish success, other phenoms are assumed to be disappointments unless they have similar instant impacts. Expectations have taken the place of patience.
An obvious statement follows, but players like Harper and Trout are rare. In fact, they could possibly be the top two fantasy players in the big leagues over the next 5-10 seasons. Sure, Hamilton is hitting just .222/.281/.333 at Triple-A Louisville. He has "only" 19 steals in 33 games after swiping 155 bags in 131 games between High-A and Double-A in 2012. His numbers will come around. But Hamilton is what he is; a decent leadoff hitter with blazing speed who is a terror on the base paths. I have said this before, and I'll say it again: he is not Rickey Henderson. He is not in the class of the Trouts and Harpers. But that isn't necessarily a knock on Hamilton. That's not to say he shouldn't still be viewed as a top prospect. It speaks more to the incredible talent and production of Trout and Harper at such a young age. Unfortunately for Hamilton, it has heightened expectations, and perhaps unfairly so, for him and other top prospects like Wil Myers, Jurickson Profar and Oscar Taveras.
Let's look at the rest of the prospect scene in this week's Minor League Barometer.
George Springer, OF, HOU - Springer has that rare combination of power and speed over which scouts salivate. The 23-year-old has 12 home runs and nine steals through 35 games for Double-A Corpus Christi. His overall line isn't too shabby either, as Springer is slashing .292/.387/.646 with 29 RBI to boot. The one knock on Springer is that he strikes out too much. Through 35 games, Springer has fanned 45 times. Likewise, he was punched out 156 times in 128 games in 2012. Still, Springer draws enough walks and makes enough contact overall to maintain his production. As long as the strikeouts don't haunt him at the higher levels, Springer has all the makings of a future star.
Christian Yelich, OF, MIA - Marcell Ozuna recently got the call to the big leagues, but Yelich is the Marlins' outfield prospect that is the true crown jewel of the system. Yelich has surged over his last 10 games at Double-A, hitting a ridiculous .462/.532/.974 with three home runs, 11 RBI and one steal over that span. A toolsy outfielder in his own right, Yelich has plate discipline well beyond his years. The 21-year-old could see the big club this season due to the way the Marlins are playing, as well as their recent aggressiveness in promoting prospects like the aforementioned Ozuna and pitcher Jose Fernandez.
Miguel Sano, 3B, MIN - Sano's raw power may be unmatched in the minors. The 20-year-old has 10 home runs and 31 RBI in 33 games for High-A Fort Myers. He is also slashing an absurd .377/.462/.713 to begin the 2013 campaign. A .424 average over his last 10 contests has only served to take his stats even higher. He has fanned 37 times in 33 games, but has also drawn 17 walks. He drew 80 free passes in 2012, so combined with his outstanding power, the strikeouts are less of an issue. In sum, Sano could enter the 2014 season as the top hitting prospect in baseball.
Garin Cecchini, 3B, BOS - Cecchini has been tearing the cover off the ball at High-A this season. The 22-year-old is batting .368/.463/.640 with four home runs, 22 RBI and 11 steals through 31 games. Perhaps most impressive, Cecchini has accumulated more walks (19) than strikeouts (16). Cecchini slashed .305/.394/.433 in 2012 with four home runs, 62 RBI and 51 steals at Low-A in 2012. The fact that Cecchini has already matched his home run total from a season ago is extremely encouraging, and his speed is clearly legitimate. Along with his stellar strike zone recognition, Cecchini has the chance to make a real impact for the Red Sox, though perhaps not for a couple more years.
Rico Noel, OF, SD - Noel's 90-steal season got lost in the Billy Hamilton madness in 2012. He has been a nightmare on the base paths for opposing hitters this season as well, swiping 24 bags in 35 games while being caught just three times. On the downside, however, Noel is hitting just .231 at Double-A with no home runs. It remains to be seen whether the 24-year-old can hit for average at the higher levels. Clearly this will put a damper on his chances of being an everyday player, as he won't hit for any power either. Still, with wheels like his, he's worth monitoring.
Tyrell Jenkins, P, STL - The Cardinals have an absurd amount of top-tier pitching prospects, so it's easy for Jenkins to get lost in the shuffle. Still more of a thrower than a pitcher, the 20-year-old has a 4.75 ERA and 19:16 K:BB ratio through 30.1 innings at Low-A. However, he tossed a shutout May 5, scattering three hits, walking one and striking out five. The talent is evident, but the 6-foot-4 Jenkins remains raw and has a long way to go before making it to the majors. Still, if any organization can mold Jenkins into a suitable starter, it's the St. Louis Cardinals. Jenkins is a player to watch in the minors with the recent ascension of pitchers like Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez to the big-league level.
James Paxton, P, SEA - Paxton was behind Danny Hultzen on the depth chart for the Mariners at Triple-A until Hultzen's recent trip to the disabled list due to a rotator cuff strain. Since that time, Paxton has allowed just three earned over his last three starts combined, a span of 14.2 innings. Paxton has also posted a 17:6 K:BB ratio over that span. Overall, the 24-year-old lefty has a respectable 4.35 ERA and 34:16 K:BB ratio in the PCL this season. Even if Hultzen comes back shortly, Paxton's MLB debut could come in 2013.
Trevor May, P, MIN - Once considered the best pitching prospect in the Phillies farm system, May's control issues caused him to be viewed as expendable by Philadelphia. The 23-year-old righty was eventually shipped to Minnesota in the Ben Revere deal. May has had a bit of a bounce-back season in 2013, posting a 3.20 ERA and 37:19 K:BB ratio in 39.1 innings for Double-A New Britain. May has been even better lately, allowing just one earned run in his last 14 innings, scattering five hits and posting a 13:3 K:BB ratio over that time period. Should May's control remain decent, he could re-emerge as a notable prospect for the Twins.
Hunter Morris, 1B, MIL - Morris is on the DL with a concussion. He also hadn't exactly been hitting much before the injury, slashing a mere .220/.303/.390 with four home runs and 13 RBI through 32 games for Triple-A Nashville. Morris had a breakout campaign in 2012, hitting .303/.357/.563 with 28 home runs and 113 RBI in 136 games at Double-A. This season has been a different story, however; Morris has gone from possible starting first baseman for Milwaukee to a borderline afterthought after just two months. It's still early, but it's safe to say that Morris has not had the start he'd hoped for in 2013.
Tommy Joseph, C, PHI - Joseph was drafted as a power catching prospect in 2009, but his numbers have not really materialized since a 22-homer campaign in 2011 at High-A with the Giants. In 2012 he batted just .257 with 11 home runs and 48 RBI and was dealt midseason to the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade. His 2013 was off to an even worse start before Joseph suffered a concussion of his own. The 21-year-old backstop was batting just .209/.264/.358 with three home runs and 14 RBI through 21 games before the injury. Joseph's plate discipline also needs work; he fanned 96 times in 108 games in 2013 and has been punched out 15 times while drawing just four walks in 2013. Perhaps Joseph has been moved a bit too fast through the ranks at a position which requires even more seasoning than normal.
Roberto Osuna, P, TOR - One of the top prospects in the Toronto organization, Osuna may need Tommy John surgery due to a tear in his throwing elbow. The 18-year-old righty had been fairly dominant at Low-A through 22.1 innings before the injury, posting a 3.63 ERA and a staggering 31:4 K:BB ratio. Opposing batters were hitting an abysmal .179 against the 6-2 right-hander. Osuna is extremely young and should bounce back just fine from the injury, but his progress will clearly be stunted by the fact that he won't pitch in the minors for at least a year.
Courtney Hawkins, OF, CWS - The first-round selection for the White Sox in 2012 is expected to miss about another month due to left rotator cuff and biceps injuries. Hawkins is a superior athlete with mammoth power but was hitting just .177/.247/.456 in 23 games before being shelved. Hawkins struck out a staggering 45 times over that span at High-A, while drawing just seven free passes. He's 19 and should only get better, but Hawkins lacks the polish to be a factor for the White Sox anytime soon, particularly if he continues to battle injuries.