The top three selections in the 2013 draft have lived up to the hype early in their brief professional careers. No. 1 overall pick, Mark Appel of the Houston Astros, has been shut down after 10 starts; he compiled a 3.79 ERA and 33:9 K:BB ratio in 38 innings, mostly for Low-A Quad Cities. No. 2 overall selection Kris Bryant of the Cubs has been white-hot, hitting .336/.390/.688 with nine home runs and 32 RBI through 36 games, most recently for High-A Daytona. Perhaps the most impressive performance thus far has come from Colorado's Jonathan Gray, the No. 3 overall pick. Through 24 innings in the hitter-friendly confines of the California League, Gray has a sparkling 0.75 ERA and 36:6 K:BB ratio. Opposing batters in High-A are hitting a putrid .128 against him.
The futures of these three phenoms certainly appear very bright.
Here are five more items to ponder:
1. The next wave of upper-tier pitching prospects after Appel, Gray, Archie Bradley and Jameson Taillon, in no particular order: Andrew Heaney (Marlins), Robert Stephenson (Reds), Kyle Crick (Giants), Noah Syndergaard (Mets), Aaron Sanchez (Blue Jays), Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer (Royals). Some will argue for Tyler Glasnow (Pirates) as well.
2. Three under-the-radar prospects from the AL East: Dalton Pompey (Toronto), Mookie Betts (Boston), Enny Romero (Tampa).
3. Disappointing prospects this season: James Paxton (Mariners), Daniel Corcino (Reds), Trevor Story (Rockies), Bubba Starling (Royals), Mason Williams (Yankees), Mike Olt (Cubs).
4. It looks like George Springer will fall just short of becoming the first 40/40 player in the minors since Len Tucker in 1956. The 23-year-old outfield phenom for the Astros has 37 home runs and 44 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A this season.
5. Nationals pitcher Lucas Giolito has looked excellent in 32.2 innings since coming back from Tommy John surgery. Between the Gulf Coast League and NY-Penn League, the 19-year-old righty posted a 1.93 ERA, 34:11 K:BB ratio and 1.95 GO:AO ratio.
As the minor league season draws to a close, let's see who else is helping or hurting their cause heading into 2014.
Eduardo Rodriguez, P, BAL - The 20-year-old lefty has found his footing for Double-A Bowie. Rodriguez has allowed just one earned run over his last four starts, a span of 25 innings. Rodriguez has accumulated 26 strikeouts while walking just three batters over that time. Rodriguez gets by mostly with a mid-90s heater and quality slider, along with the ability to locate his pitches. Between High-A and Double-A this season, Rodriguez has a 125:49 K:BB ratio. The development of his changeup will be vital toward his future as a possible rotation anchor; nevertheless, Rodriguez has been impressive in 2013.
Gregory Polanco, OF, PIT - Polanco show through the Pirates system this season, starting the year at High-A but just recently receiving a promotion to Triple-A. Polanco slashed .312/.364/.472 with six home runs, 30 RBI and 24 steals through 57 games at High-A before receiving a bump up to Double-A. At that level, he hit .263/.354/.407 but had just as many walks (36) as strikeouts in 68 games. He also had six home runs, 41 RBI and 13 steals. Polanco will finish the year at Triple-A, and likely return there to begin the 2014 season before making his MLB debut. The 21-year-old lefty has above-average speed, stellar plate discipline and surprising pop. He is the top hitting prospect in the Pittsburgh system at this time.
Mac Williamson, OF, SF - A third-round selection in the 2012 draft, Williamson is a power prospect who has had a breakout season at High-A San Jose for the Giants. The 23-year-old out of Wake Forest is slashing .295/.378/.508 with 25 home runs, 89 RBI and 10 stolen bases through 135 games. Williamson has been particularly hot lately, hitting .457/.533/.771 with three home runs and 13 RBI over his last 10 games. He'll have to work on his strikeouts (130 in 135 games) and will also have to prove he can slug outside the friendly hitting confines of the California League. Still, Williams is a prospect to watch for the Giants.
Danny Winkler, P, COL - Winkler is another 23-year-old who had a breakout season in the California League. The 6-foot-1 righty posted a 2.97 ERA and 152:37 K:BB ratio in 130.1 innings at High-A. He subsequently received a promotion to Double-A, where he has compiled a 3.04 ERA and 23:10 K:BB ratio through 26.2 innings for the Tulsa Drillers. Winkler was a 20th-round pick out of Central Florida in 2011, so he does not come with the same pedigree as some other, more highly-touted prospects. Winkler uses a heavy sinker/slider combination to miss bats. Double-A will be a greater test of his future prospects, but his High-A stats should not be ignored due to the hitter-friendly environment.
Joey Gallo, 3B, TEX - Gallo has 38 home runs this season, including six in his last three games for Low-A Hickory. His massive power potential at age 19 overshadows his .242 batting average and 165 strikeouts at this level. Gallo has drawn 46 walks, though, which makes the strikeouts a little more palatable. He has also swiped 13 bags this season, showing underrated speed. However, Gallo's power is what makes him a rare prospect, and is something that cannot be taught. The ability to take raw power and translate it to the baseball diamond is more difficult than it looks. He'll have his share of strikeouts, but the power stroke makes him an extremely valuable phenom.
Victor Sanchez, P, SEA - Sanchez is 18 and has a sub-3.00 ERA at Low-A. Specifically, Sanchez has a 2.78 ERA through 113.1 innings at this level. He has also shown standout control, issuing just 18 free passes. However, he has not reached his full potential yet, as he has fanned "only" 79 batters. In other words, Sanchez is still learning how to pitch. Still, he has a huge frame, movement on his fastball, a filthy curveball and an emerging changeup. With some seasoning, he could emerge as an elite pitching prospect. It just may take some time.
Juan Silverio, 3B, CIN - Silverio found his power stroke this season, hitting 19 home runs and driving in 80 runs in 126 games for High-A Bakersfield. The 22-year-old righty out of the Dominican Republic is also batting a respectable .286 this season. On the downside, he has been punched out 109 times; even more disconcerting, he has drawn just 11 walks in 2013. Silverio recently received a promotion to Double-A, and his raw talent is evident. However, his plate discipline will have to improve at the higher levels if he is to make any sort of impact for the Reds.
Max Muncy, 1B, OAK - A fifth-round pick in last year's draft out of Baylor, Muncy also took advantage of the California League, hitting 21 home runs and driving in 76 runs in 93 games for High-A Stockton. However, Muncy showed superior patience at the dish over that span, walking 64 times while fanning on 68 occasions. That led to an overall slash line of .286/.400/.507. It's been a bit tougher at Double-A thus far for the 23-year-old Muncy, as he is batting .256/.347/.423 for the Midland Rockhounds. Still, Muncy has four home runs, 24 RBI and 24 walks in 46 games. His power may not be quite as good as his California League numbers display, but Muncy did hit two home runs in Sunday's game, and his plate discipline and productivity (100 combined RBI) should put him on the prospect map for the Athletics.
Michael Fulmer, P, NYM - Fulmer showed much promise in 2012, posting a 2.74 ERA and 101:38 K:BB ratio in 108.1 innings for Low-A Savannah. This season has been vastly different, however, as Fulmer has been limited to just nine starts due to two separate injuries. Fulmer missed almost the entire first half of the season due to a torn meniscus in his knee. He has been shut down for the rest of the year due to a right shoulder strain. In between, Fulmer had a 3.44 EERA and 29:18 K:BB ratio through 34 innings for High-A St. Lucie. Fulmer is still just 20 and should be healthy for the 2014 campaign. However, 2013 was certainly a step back for him, and particularly in a season where so many other Mets pitchers (Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard) shined.
Keon Barnum, 1B, CHW - Barnum was supposed to be a power prospect coming out of King High School in Tampa. He was selected with the No. 48 overall pick by the White Sox in the 2012 draft. The 20-year-old hasn't shown much pop this season, though, with just five home runs and 26 RBI through 55 games for Low-A Kannapolis. Barnum's plate discipline has also been subpar, as the 6-5, 225, lefty has fanned 65 times while drawing just 19 walks over that span. He's also battled injuries throughout his brief time in the minors. In 2012, Barnum played in just 13 games due to a shoulder injury. In 2013, he's missed time due to having his right hamate bone removed. It's been a frustrating year for the White Sox in all facets, and Barnum's season is no exception.
Edward Salcedo, 3B, ATL - Salcedo's plate discipline has slowly improved, though he still has struck out 111 times in 131 games this season. Although he has a career-high 44 walks this season, the 22-year-old third baseman is slashing just .238/.303/.371. It does not appear that his average or OBP will ever be much higher. Salcedo has swiped 20 bases, but has only 12 home runs from a notoriously power position in the lineup. Salcedo is only hitting .222 against right-handed pitching. What do all these stats mean? Call this one more a gut feeling than anything else, but the toolsy Salcedo seems to be more of a utility/platoon player due to his impatience at the dish, inability to hit righties and lack of plus-power.
Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B, KC - Perhaps the Royals have been too aggressive with Cuthbert? The 20-year-old is hitting a mere .218/.282/.363 with six home runs, 28 RBI and five steals through 63 games for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He was promoted midseason from High-A despite the fact that he wasn't exactly scalding the ball. Cuthbert batted .280/.354/.418 with just two home runs and 31 RBI in 60 games for High-A Wilmington before the promotion. Cuthbert's baseball ability hasn't caught up to his raw talent just yet; he has never hit above .267 in any one season and has not reached double-digits in home runs in any year since entering the minors. He still has some time to get things turned around due to his age, but the Royals may want to be more patient with him rather than attempting to push him through the system quickly. He appears to be need some seasoning.