Prospect projection is a bit of an art. It's a combination of many factors, including but not limited to observation and statistical analysis. Sometimes, it's just a gut feeling.
Take the example of Derek Jeter, a surefire Hall of Famer who will retire this year after 20 seasons with the New York Yankees. Jeter was selected sixth in the 1992 MLB Draft. That's right, FIVE players were selected before Jeter in 1992. When the Yankees asked the man who scouted him, Dick Grouch, if Jeter was going to the University of Michigan, Grouch famously quipped, "The only place he's going is Cooperstown."
The list of picks before Jeter isn't pretty. The five players selected before him combined for two All-Star appearances (Phil Nevin and Jeffrey Hammonds). The No. 5 overall pick, Chad Mottola, played in 59 major-league games. No. 3 selection, B.J. Wallace, never even sniffed the majors. No. 2 pick, Paul Shuey, did have a nice career - as a middle reliever.
What's the point, you may ask? The rub is that some highly rated players succeed, but others fail. Some become superstars, others have mediocre careers, and still others fail to even make a mark. On the flip side, you get players like Albert Pujols and Mike Piazza who come from virtual anonymity to shine. In other words, forecasting success for prospects is an inexact science. Not that it will stop us from trying, though.
The Minor League Barometer will serve as your guide to the talent coming through the MLB pipeline. It is not meant to be all-encompassing or provide weekly rankings of the top prospects. The Barometer will simply serve as a weekly snapshot of those prospects who have helped their cause recently, and those that have seen their stock tumble.
Let's move on to the section called "Three Strikes." Here are three opening notes to chew on:
1. The top prospect in baseball, Minnesota's Byron Buxton, likely will begin the 2014 campaign on the shelf due to a sprained left wrist. Buxton should start at Double-A New Britain when healthy. Although the situation bears monitoring, he likely wouldn not make an impact at the big-league level in 2014 even if he started the season healthy.
2. With Jurickson Profar sidelined almost three months due to a shoulder injury, keep an eye on second base prospect Rougned Odor. The 20-year-old hit .305 between High-A and Double-A last season, while also showing above-average speed and surprising pop for his size.
3. When will we see Cardinals' prospect Oscar Taveras? Last year was a lost season for him due to injury, and he had surgery on his hobbled right ankle this offseason. Although Taveras remains a top-flight prospect for St. Louis, he's been battling a right hamstring injury in spring training, and may start the year on the disabled list, in Triple-A or both. Health is starting to become a major concern, though Taveras is still just 21.
Next, let's look at those phenoms who will impact major league rosters from the start of the 2014 campaign.
Billy Hamilton, OF, CIN - Shin-Soo Choo got a huge contract from Texas, leaving a void in center field for the speedy Hamilton to fill. The Reds are all in on Hamilton, and he will get every opportunity to prove he can hit big-league pitching. His speed is not in question; his plate discipline and ability to make contact is the chief concern. Hamilton struck out 102 times in 123 games at Triple-A in 2013, hitting just .258 at that level. He had a brief cup of coffee in September that was highly successful, though, and has shown improved plate discipline thus far in spring training as well. Hamilton could be a fantasy force in 2014.
Nick Castellanos, 3B, DET - The trade of Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers allows Miguel Cabrera to move to first base, and gives Castellanos, the top prospect in the Detroit organization, the everyday job at third base to open the season. Castellanos is not a monster power hitter (18 home runs at Triple-A in 2013), but he has enough pop along with the ability to hit for average. Having the protection of Cabrera in the lineup shouldn't hurt, either. If he can cut down on his strikeouts, Castellanos would become a nice option at the hot corner.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, BOS - The defending champs are going with the youth movement at short, replacing veteran Stephen Drew with the studly Bogaerts. The neophyte already has plus-power for the position despite being just 21. He also possesses plate discipline beyond his years, as well as the ability to hit .300. Although he'll likely start at the bottom of the Boston lineup, it shouldn't be long before Bogaerts works his way toward the top of the order. He is a star in the making, and will receive regular at-bats from the get-go in 2014.
Kolten Wong, 2B, STL - Wong has won the starting second base job for the Cardinals. After a slow start in spring training, he ended up hitting .391 with two home runs, nine RBI and four steals in 46 at-bats. Although by no means a power hitter, Wong has surprising pop despite his 5-foot-9 height. He can hit .300 and possesses above-average speed; Wong has stolen at least 20 bases in each of the last two seasons in the minors. The fact that Wong plays a shallow fantasy position should also help his cause. He might not end up being a superstar, but Wong has all the makings of a solid MLB regular.
Taijuan Walker, P, SEA - Walker was a chic fantasy pick and a lock for the M's opening day rotation before being diagnosed with shoulder inflammation early in spring training. He'll likely begin the season on the DL, but is a great hurler to stash, even in non-keeper formats. The 21-year-old is arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball; after scorching his way through the minors, Walker posted a 3.60 ERA and 12:4 K:BB ratio in 15 innings during a cup of coffee with the big club in September. Walker works down in the zone with a fastball, curveball and cutter combination, yielding ground balls as well as whiffs. He may not be available to begin the season, but Walker is still primed for a big season upon his return.
Archie Bradley, P, AZ - If Walker is not the best pitching prospect in baseball, then that honor belongs to Bradley. Last season's surprise starter Patrick Corbin may need Tommy John surgery, which opened the door for Bradley to possibly begin the 2014 season in the Arizona rotation. But he did not exactly hit the ground running with the opportunity. Bradley struggled a bit with his command, though still has fanned 10 batters in 8.1 innings. As this issue has plagued him throughout his time in the minors, he will start the year at Triple-A. He has also never pitched above Double-A. However, Bradley has massive strikeout potential, and it's going to be hard for the D-Backs to keep hi down for long.
George Springer, OF, HOU - Springer is my favorite prospect in the minors, and has been for at least the last season. The prospect of a 40-40 season at the big-league level is tantalizing. One of the main reasons why some scouts and so-called experts question his ability to hit at major-league pitching is his penchant to strike out; however, he managed to cut his strikeout rate at Triple-A last season, while also hitting a crisp .311 in 62 games. Springer also walked 83 times in 135 games between Double-A and Triple-A. Springer's combination of power, speed and ability to draw a walk make him a monster fantasy phenom. So why isn't he an upgrade, then? The Astros are likely going to choose to delay his Arbitration clock by keeping him the minors past the Super 2 deadline. This will give them an extra year of team control. Springer has already turned down a seven-year extension for $23 million, so it looks like he'll be stuck biding his time at Triple-A for the time being. Still, make no mistake about it; Springer has superstar potential.
Javier Baez, SS, CHC - It could be sooner rather than later that Baez makes his major-league debut for the talent-starved Cubbies. Baez hit .310 with five home runs this spring, showing off awesome raw power from the shortstop position. On the downside, he struck out a team-high 13 times in 42 at-bats, and is also blocked by Starlin Castro. Castro had a poor 2013 campaign, though, and is nursing a hamstring injury. There has been talk of a possible move to third base or even second base for Baez, but for now he will start the season at shortstop for Triple-A Iowa. Still, if he gets off to a hot start, Baez could force the Cubbies' hand, particularly if Castro continues to struggle with injury and/or inconsistency. Baez is one of the elite hitting prospects in the game.
Travis d'Arnaud, C, NYM - Scouts have ripped apart d'Arnaud's swing the last couple seasons, and his spring numbers have done nothing to dispel the notion the may struggle to hit in the big leagues. The Mets catcher is hitting just .154 in 39 at-bats, boasting a single home run to his credit. However, his inability to stay healthy is just as worrisome. He played in 63 combined games in 2013, and 67 combined games in 2012. At such a physically taxing position, this should be a major concern. He will get the chance to start for the Mets out of the gate in 2014, but his injury history as well as struggles at the dish do not bode well for early season success.
Jonathan Singleton, 1B, HOU - Once a highly touted prospect, Singleton admitted this offseason that he has a drug problem. While Singleton's personal well being is first and foremost, it appears this may have been the reason for the nosedive his statistics took in 2013. He was suspended for the first 50 games last season for testing positive for marijuana. Singleton then had to work his way back into game shape. He ended up playing in just 73 games for Triple-A Oklahoma City, hitting just .220 with six home runs and 31 RBI. He isn't really blocked by anyone at the big-league level, so if he starts hitting again, he could see the majors this season. However, Singleton will have to work his way back into the good graces of fantasy owners and prove that he has left 2013 behind.
Matt Davidson, 3B, CHW - The starting third base job was supposed to be Davidson's to lose when spring training began, as he came over in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks for closer Addison Reed. Davidson didn't hit that poorly, but the White Sox were concerned with his penchant for striking out, and instead sent him back to the minors for a little longer. He is still viewed as the third baseman of the future for Chicago, as Conor Gillaspie and Jeff Keppinger are the other two third basemen expected to make the Opening Day roster. As such, Davidson could be back up in Chi-Town shortly. For now, though, he'll just have to bide his time at Triple-A.
Miguel Sano, 3B, MIN - Sano had an outside shot at the starting third-base job coming into camp, but instead he will likely miss the entire 2014 campaign due to a torn UCL that required Tommy John surgery. He initially injured his throwing elbow in October, but was allegedly 100 percent healthy coming into spring training. However, he tweaked his elbow in late February, and it was subsequently determined that he would need to go under the knife. Arguably the top power prospect in baseball, Sano will need to be stashed in keeper leagues, and can be simply ignored in non-keeper formats for the 2014 season.