Shortstop has once again become a power position in the minors. The list of top-flight shortstop phenoms is astounding. Addison Russell, Carlos Correa, Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor are all top-25 overall prospects. Add in rookie starting shortstops Xander Bogaerts and Chris Owings at the big-league level, and the amount of young talent flowing through the center of the diamond is simply astonishing. Major League Baseball may be searching for the next great shortstop now that Derek Jeter is retiring. Perhaps one of these neophytes can step into the void.
Let's punch out three more items in this week's edition of "Three Strikes:"
1. A few prospects I like more than other pundits: George Springer, Zach Lee, Lucas Giolito, Mike Foltynewicz, Clayton Blackburn. A few prospects I don't like as much as other scouts: David Dahl, Austin Hedges, Michael Choice, Jorge Alfaro.
2. Watch out for Jonathan Schoop of the Orioles. He was a surprise addition to the Baltimore roster, but played much of his minor league ball paired on the infield with Manny Machado. He is not quite on Machado's level, talent-wise, but he still has some pop and can handle the bat.
3. Yordano Ventura belongs in the rotation, I've always believed that. I think he'll make the Royals look smart for keeping him as a starter and not making him a closer.
Since the minor league season is still in its infancy, let's take a look at some more players who could see the big leagues in 2014.
Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC - Bryant simply crushed opposing pitching during his brief time in the minors after being drafted in 2013, then was only the MVP of the Arizona Fall League. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Bryant is a pure hitter with power to all fields. The Cubs did trade for Mike Olt last season; however, despite a hot spring, Olt's star has really fallen off over the past year. Bryant is now getting all of the publicity, and rightly so. A hot start could see him in the Majors by June. Bryant's batting ability is too good to be kept down for long, particularly on a squad with such poor hitting overall.
Gregory Polanco, OF, PIT - Polanco has that speed/power combo that makes fantasy owners salivate. He swiped 38 bags in 2013, while hitting 12 home runs. In 2012, he stole 40 bases and hit 16 homers. His skill set is very similar to current Pittsburgh outfielder Starling Marte. However, Polanco is just 22 years of age (three years younger than Marte) and much bigger at 6-4, 220-lbs. Pittsburgh is confident he will develop a better power stroke as he gains more at-bats. He'll start the season at Triple-A, but the Pirates will find it tough to keep him down if the underwhelming tandem of Travis Snider and Jose Tabata can't cut it in right field to begin the 2014 campaign.
Jonathan Gray, P, COL - The Rockies may finally, mercifully, have some pitching coming through the ranks. Along with fellow hurler Eddie Butler, Gray blazed through the minors in 2013 and looks the part of a frontline starter and rotation anchor. Gray has the ability to hit 100 mph on the radar gun, but also possesses a filthy slider that makes opposing batters look silly. Perhaps most importantly, Gray showed the ability to harness his pitches, posting an absurd 51:8 K:BB ratio in 37.1 innings last season. With a lackluster rotation at the MLB level, Gray could be on the fast track to Coors Field.
Jake Odorizzi, P, TB - Odorizzi is the No. 5 starter for the Rays, seizing the opportunity due to the injury to Jeremy Hellickson. Odorizzi has been dominant throughout his minor league career, showing pinpoint control along with the ability to miss bats. He even showed that promise during a brief stint with the Rays late in 2013, when he notched a 3.94 ERA and 22:8 K:BB ratio in 29.2 innings for the big club. It remains to be seen what will happen upon Hellickson's return, but for now, Odorizzi will get almost two months worth of starts. Following that time, it may be difficult to take him out of the rotation.
Marcus Stroman, P, TOR - Despite being a first-round pick in 2012, Stroman was viewed as a bit of a reach due to his 5-9 stature. He also appeared destined for a spot in the bullpen as a reliever. However, Stroman started 20 games last season and posted a 3.30 ERA and 129:27 K:BB ratio in 111.2 innings at Double-A last season. The 22-year-old righty held opposing hitters to a .234 BAA, but control was really his calling card. Stroman even had a shot to make the Blue Jays rotation out of camp, but a 13.09 ERA during the spring sent him to Triple-A instead. Still, Stroman is an elite talent who should remain in the rotation, and could be called up by the summer. With unknowns like Drew Hutchison and Dustin McGowan at the back of the Toronto rotation, his MLB debut could come sooner rather than later.
Kevin Gausman, P, BAL - Gausman appeared to be merely a victim of circumstance this spring. After the Orioles signed Ubaldo Jimenez, the squad simply did not have enough room for Gausman in the MLB rotation. Gausman posted a 2.45 ERA in the Grapefruit League, but lost out in the numbers game. Instead of pitching out of the bullpen in the Majors, Gausman will being the 2013 campaign anchoring the rotation at Triple-A. Gausman struggled in 2013 at the big-league level, notching a bloated 5.66 ERA in 20 appearances, five of which were starts. However, his peripheral numbers were good, as Gausman fanned 49 batters in 47.2 innings, while walking just 13 hitters. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2012 draft, it appears Gausman would be the first hurler considered should injury strike the current members of the Baltimore rotation.
Carlos Martinez, P, STL - Martinez has nasty stuff, but the Cardinals have a surplus of starting pitching, so he finds himself as the setup man for Trevor Rosenthal to begin the 2014 season. The hope here is that Martinez doesn't go the way of Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes and get messed up being jostled back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation. Martinez has made it clear he would prefer to start, but that doesn't appear to be possible at this time. Will he let it go to his head? He is an enormous talent, but as we saw by this spring's Twitter flap, may have some maturing to do. Hopefully the stay in the setup role is temporary, and Martinez gets his shot to strut his stuff as a starter sooner rather than later.
Rymer Liriano, OF, SD - Don't forget about Liriano, who missed all of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. In 2012, he hit .280 between High-A and Double-A, while smacking eight home runs and stealing 32 bases. Though Liriano has a penchant for striking out too much, he is still just 22 years old with above-average speed as well as the ability to take a walk. The Padres have a suspect outfield with Will Venable, Chris Denorfia and Seth Smith, and the only other outfield prospect in the organization viewed as better than Liriano is Hunter Renfroe. A 2013 first-round draft pick, Renfroe still needs more seasoning, though, and should start lower in the minors than Liriano. In other words, the opportunity is there for Liriano if he can show he is fully healthy.
Jameson Taillon, P, PIT - Taillon appeared to be headed on a very similar path in 2014 that Gerrit Cole followed in 2013. Cole, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2011 draft out of UCLA, made his MLB debut at 22 on June 11 of last season. He subsequently stayed in the Pittsburgh rotation for the remainder of the season. Taillon was the No. 2 overall pick of the 2010 draft, but was drafted straight out of high school. However, he has steadily made his way through the minors since that time, and appeared to be on the verge of making the big club this season. He was shut down during spring training, though, due to a sore pitching elbow. And despite an initial MRI that revealed no structural damage, a second opinion diagnosed a partially torn ligament. The Pirates hoped that rest and treatment would be enough get Tallion healthy, but he will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the rest of the season.
Gary Sanchez, C, NYY - The fear for Yankees fans is that Sanchez will become another Jesus Montero. Sanchez is considered an elite catching prospect, and it feels like he's been around forever. Sanchez also has plus-power, and is viewed as a better hitter than receiver. The 21-year-old backstop already reached Double-A last season, though hit just .253 combined between High-A and Double-A. It appears doubtful that he'll hit even close to .300 at the big-league level. However, Sanchez is still extremely young, and learning arguably the most difficult position on the diamond. As such, he still has loads of upside, and plenty of time to develop. The signing of Brian McCann to a long-term deal gives the Yankees the ability to be patient.
Chad Bettis, P, COL - This is more of a fantasy knock than an actual knock on Bettis. The 24-year-old righty made the Opening Day roster for the Rockies. However, he made the squad as a reliever. While Bettis was a closer in college at Texas Tech, he was mostly a starter throughout his time in the minors. In fact, of his 52 appearances in the minors since 2010, 51 of them were starts. However, after eight lackluster starts for the Rockies in 2013, he will begin 2014 as a middle reliever. As previously mentioned, the Rockies have a subpar starting rotation, so this does not bode well for Bettis's future prospects as a starter, at least not in Colorado. Add in that he gave up three runs on four hits in just one inning of work in his first appearance this season, and Bettis may not have much of an impact for the Rockies after all.
Hunter Morris, 1B, MIL - When the signings of Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds signal that there's no way you're getting the starting first base job, it's never a good sign. Morris had a stellar 2012 with 28 home runs, 113 RBI and a .303 average at Double-A, but struggled in 2013. He battled issues with plate discipline, hitting .247 and fanning a career-high 122 times at Triple-A. The 25-year-old lefty did hit 24 home runs, but his RBI total took a nosedive. This will be a crucial season for Morris, who will turn 26 years of age after the 2014 campaign. If Morris can't hack it this season, his time as a prospect may be over, and he could start to turn into a has-been. Or even worse, a never-was.