The minor league playoffs are over, the World Series isn't too far away, and the Arizona Fall League is already in full swing, so what better time than now to look back at a few of my top-20 prospects from February and see who wore it well?
The Graduating Class
Jose Fernandez (Preseason ranking: 15)
I'll be honest, my first idea for this column was to just write the entire piece about Fernandez, but that wouldn't be quite as much fun. Fernandez, 21, came right from High-A to make 28 starts for the Marlins with a 2.19 ERA (second only to Clayton Kershaw) and 2.73 FIP (sixth in all of baseball). He took a backseat to no one in the second half as he led baseball with a 1.32 ERA in 10 starts. Fernandez had the most exciting debut by a starting pitcher since King Felix in 2005 and has put himself on the radar as one of the first 10 pitchers off the board in drafts next year.
Money quote from February: "Fernandez is coming off a season across two levels where he struck out 158 in 134 innings and posted 0.92 WHIP. He dominated, and he's clearly ready for the next test. They might have to bring him to the majors for that as Fernandez's fastball and curveball are so nasty that he can get away with a lacking changeup and pitchability in the minors."
Shelby Miller (Preseason ranking: 11)
Miller's first full major league season was very much like his 2012 in the minors in that it was a tale of two-half seasons. In his first 14 starts this year, Miller carried a 2.08 ERA with a 96:18 K:BB over 86.1 innings. During that span, he struck out 28.5 percent of the batter he faced, while walking hitters at a 5.6 percent rate, and opposing hitters posted a .204/.256/.307 line against him. In his last 17 starts, Miller had a 4.03 ERA with a 73:38 K:BB in 87 innings. The strikout rate fell to 18.9 percent, while he issued walks at a 9.8 percent clip. The opposition hit .261/.338/.430 against him. Miller's fastball is a plus-plus offering and he relies on it the majority of the time, but clearly he just wasn't quite as effective with it as the season went on. His curveball is above average and his changeup is an average pitch. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs compared Miller to Cliff Lee in June for his historic ability to be aggressive in the strike zone and get ahead in counts. At this point, I view Miller as a No. 2 starter who will once again eat innings and rack up strikeouts and wins on the Cardinals next year.
Money quote from February: People still don't know what to think of Miller's unseemly first half in 2012, but nobody seems to mention it after he pitched his way to the big leagues in the second half (59.1 innings, 2.88 ERA, 70:7 K:BB)."
Gerrit Cole (Preseason ranking: 7)
Cole made 19 starts for the Pirates during the regular season (3.22 ERA) and another couple in the playoffs (including Game 5 of the NLDS against Adam Wainwright). After striking out three batters in his first two starts (50 batters faced), Cole's strikeout rate was 23.1 percent the rest of the way. The 23-year-old has an impressive arsenal that starts with a nasty fastball that touches 100 mph. Cole, the former No. 1 overall selection out of UCLA, showed that he can make adjustments and pitch at the highest level. The sky is the limit for this future ace.
Money quote from February: "His stuff was good (three above average pitches) and the results were pretty good (136:45 K:BB in 132 innings), but Cole is a guy with ace potential and he didn't really dominate."
Back to School
Jurickson Profar (Preseason ranking: 3)
I hope you didn't blow all of your FAAB money on Profar hoping for a breakout season this year. Profar didn't start the season in the majors, got a chance when Ian Kinsler went down for a month with an injury, but Profar never really got going at the plate (.234/.308/.336 in 324 plate appearances). It was his first time around the league, he wasn't always playing regularly, and sometimes he was learning a new position in the outfield. Profar turns 21 in February, so he more than deserves a pass for this season. I'm still just as high on Profar as I was before 2013, but the Rangers need to clear a spot and give him a defined role before I'm targeting him in 2014.
Money quote from February: "With Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler still in place, I anticipate a return to the minors, but he could be a difference maker once the opportunity presents itself."
Oscar Taveras (Preseason ranking: 2)
An ankle injury derailed his season, but Taveras shouldn't be slept on. He's still the best hitter in the minors and he's expected to recover from ankle surgery in time to compete for playing time in spring training.
Money quote from February: "His bat is elite thanks to wicked bat speed and a ton of raw power. The swing is violent, but not in a way that takes away from his game. This is a franchise changing type player. He's going to be an absolute stud."
Dylan Bundy (preseason ranking: 6)
Money quote from February: "The piggyback start system is used in the low minors to keep innings down and it works, but I'm not sure how exactly that helps Bundy contribute to the Orioles in the second half of 2013 or in 2014. A starter needs a base of innings to build from at some point because I'm sure they'd like to avoid a big innings jump that may cause him to miss time. I'm obviously sold on him in the long term, but skeptical about his immediate future. How much will they use him? How effective is he even going to be without his cutter?"
I'm not including Bundy here to say I knew he was going to get hurt because clearly I didn't. I used part of his player comment in February to rail against the minor league piggyback system of short three-inning starts because I'm not a fan of it. I will stick by my opinion that it's better for young pitchers to pitch a full season while gradually increasing innings from year to year, but I don't think that's what ultimately doomed Bundy. I thought a larger innings base would help him pitch a full season. If anything, with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps the Orioles were just being extra careful with Bundy in 2012.
Anyway, my overall concerns about how much Bundy would be used in the majors in 2013 turned out to be valid, though I was only expressing concern about him holding up over a full season. Bundy isn't scheduled to pick up a ball until November, which will mark five months since he underwent ligament-reconstruction surgery.