I can't abide lack of upside. I'm sure he opens doors for the ladies and is a tender listener, but there's no place in my minor league squad for Jake Odorizzi. Prospect slots are the lowest risk part of your roster. Why use one of them for the type of guy you can buy cheap as a major leaguer? When the top impact prospects are off the board, you're going to face a choice between sure things in back-end rotation fodder like Odorizzi, or guys who will either blow up and become stars or tremendous busts.
They're young, maybe not even in A-ball yet. That's the point. It's too early now to count on them but next year will be too late to snag one. They're Oscar Taveras before he destroyed Low-A and put himself on the map. Oscar afterwards is who goes early in your minors draft. When he's off the board, go for the next Taveras and skip the next Jeff Suppan.
If you get good at this and have a few lottery tickets turn into Raul Adalberto Mondesi rather than Ravel Santana, with your imprimatur on them, your other prospects have better trade value, even the guys trending downward.
High-ceiling players are also a little more likely to break into the majors well. Assume your typical prospect hits the show at some level below his peak. For the guy with the middling ceiling (or worse) that means starting out at the bottom of the impact totem pole. A guy meant for greater heights might start out as dog meat, too, or get to the majors too young, but at least his talent level gives him the chance to hit the ground running at a much higher level than the low-ceiling guy.
So who are the guys that in a few years everyone will wish they got in on now?
Raimel Tapia, OF, COL – Tapia is the prototype. He's got the superstar starter kit. Give me all the tools you need in raw form and too young to know if he'll turn into anything but an athlete. Classic resume: last year at 19 years old Tapia treated rookie-level ball with no respect to the tune of a .357/.399/.562 line, but who doesn't? His stats don't mean anything...yet. But they could mean something very soon and the scouting reports give him a better chance than most guys who come through short-season ball looking like the next Carlos Gonzalez. In the sea of young guns with eons of power, short of Joey Gallo, I'll take the guy like Tapia who scouts tout with contact skills to go with his power potential and speed. None of it means anything if you can't put bat to the ball and Tapia has the superior physical tools to do that, along with results - so far. He doesn't strike out much, but has yet to develop the approach he'll need to make it as he moves up.
Tim Anderson, SS, CHA - You'll hear this story at least once a year: the premium athlete who didn't concentrate on baseball in high school. Anderson is this year's edition. There is speed to spare, which will help him if he can't learn short and would have to move to center field. The hitting, that's unrefined and slappy, but he shows raw power in batting practice. He's got a lot of work to do to put his hitting mechanics in a position to use that power, but the physical ability is there. Will he do the work and turn the tools into skills? He's already fared well enough in Low-A.
Alberto Tirado, RHP, TOR - Throwing in the mid-90s has a way of getting attention. With Tirado, the potential extends to a changeup and slider that both could develop into above average pitches and the fact that there's some chance of adding velocity if he can bulk up his slight frame. Reports are that he hasn't really found a consistent delivery yet, so there are control problems, nor has he pitched many innings or gotten past rookie ball, but this is where many front-end pitchers start.
Francisco Mejia, C, CLE - If there's a chance a guy can hit and play behind the plate, teams will put him on that development track and keep him there as long as they can. Mejia leads the field of guys with bat speed and big arms. He's got a long way to go but is long on impact if he gets there. He has to learn to catch and use his hit and power tools in games, but there's a lot to dream on with this switch hitter. He'll take his first steps beyond complex rookie level in 2014.
Lewis Thorpe, LHP, MIN - Thorpe is a little counter-typical in this lot since he's not a high-velocity guy, which limits his ceiling some. What he has shown, however, is unnatural command of four pitches and results that include very few walks. There's some chance the beefed up Australian could add some velocity, so with some progression in stuff, he's already got the command to be dominant.
Nick Williams, OF, TEX - He's not as big a name as Joey Gallo or Jorge Alfaro, but Williams was another member of the Rangers' Low-A Hickory squad whose power was only matched by the swing-and-miss. Observers say Williams has the best bat-to-ball skills of the group, giving him perhaps the best chance to get to that raw power in game action. An athlete with preternatural contact skills, he doesn't walk but rather puts everything in play, so the next challenge will be pitchers who can attack him with a solid plan. A guy who can make contact like Williams can learn power; it's much harder the other way around.
Bobby Wahl, RHP, OAK - Wahl might surprise some because after showing average velocity last year in college while combating blister issues, he rebounded this summer to shove plus heat. A former Team USA closer, he's got the slider and changeup to start. There's effort in his delivery, which lead some to argue there's injury potential or a bullpen role in future. Plus, the change lags behind his other offerings, but the A's got a steal in a player with less risk than the others mentioned above.