The Astros couldn't keep George Springer down for long. Springer appeared ready for the bigs in 2013, when he slashed .303/.411/.600 with 37 home runs, 108 RBI and 45 steals in 135 games between Double-A and Triple-A. However, in the spring, rumors swirled that Houston would keep Springer at Triple-A as long as possible to maximize arbitration and team control over the hotshot prospect. That didn't last long, though, as Springer got off to a torrid start over the first 13 games for the Oklahoma City Redhawks, hitting .353/.459/.647 with three home runs, nine RBI and four stolen bases. Add in the fact that starter Robbie Grossman hit a putrid .125 to begin the 2014 campaign, and the decision became easier for management. Springer's 40-40 potential should be on display on an everyday basis for the 'Stros, as he wasn't called up to ride the pine.
Next up, some quick hitters in the "Three Strikes" section:
1. Keep tabs on Seattle Mariners neophyte Victor Sanchez. The 19-year-old righty is fully formed, already weighing over 250 pounds and pitching at Double-A. The Mariners have not been shy about pushing their top-tier pitching prospects through the minors.
2. Pirates prospect Gregory Polanco is hitting .465 through his first 11 games with Triple-A Indianapolis. Polanco’s blazing start may force the Pirates to abandon the left field platoon of Jose Tabata and Travis Snider shortly.
3. A pitching prospect who doesn't get enough publicity is Chris Reed of the Dodgers. The 23-year-old lefty, born in London, England, has decent strikeout stuff along with the ability to get ground balls. The only thing missing is consistent control.
The sample sizes are still small, but let's take a look at those prospects helping or hurting their respective causes early on in 2014.
Rafael Montero, P, NYM - Fellow rotation mate Noah Syndergaard gets the headlines, and perhaps rightly so. However, Montero is no slouch himself, and is proving that thus far this season. Through three starts over 17.1 innings, Montero has a 2.60 ERA and 18:3 K:BB ratio. Standout control has always been his calling card, and that has been no different at Triple-A in 2014. His success at Triple-A should come as little surprise, though, as Montero has had little resistance at any level over the past three seasons. In fact, Montero's ERA has not been above 3.05 at any level since 2012. With his strikeouts continuing to stay up as well as he has ascended through the minors, Montero is a great bet to find his way to the big-league rotation shortly.
Courtney Hawkins, OF, CHW - Hawkins was drafted in the first round in 2012 more due to his athleticism and power potential than anything else. He was considered rough around the edges as an actual baseball player, and that showed in 2013. In 103 games at High-A, Hawkins hit an abysmal .178. he struck out a staggering 160 times over that span, while walking just 29 times. Hawkins did hit 19 home runs and swipe 10 bases, but his raw talent was clearly not enough on its own to carry him through. At the same level to begin the 2014 campaign, Hawkins is off to a hot start. The 6-3, 220-pounder is slashing .333/.370/.643 with three home runs and 15 RBI through 11 games at High-A. Though his strikeouts are still high (14 over that span), they become much easier to swallow with a higher batting average and outstanding RBI production. The plate discipline remains a concern, but it is also possible that he was simply pushed too hard in his first full season in the minors. Hawkins may never have much patience at the dish, but his potential has been on display over the first two-plus weeks of the season.
Corey Seager, SS/3B, LAD - With Joc Pederson grabbing all the headlines, it's easy to forget about Seager, who has been excellent out of the gate for High-A Rancho Cucamonga. Seager is batting .308/.362/.423 with four RBI and three steals through 13 games in the friendly hitting confines of the California League. Seager won't turn 20 until the end of April, but has already shown stellar plate discipline, emerging power and even the ability to swipe a base or two during his brief time in the minors. He knocked 16 home runs, drove in 72 runs and stole 10 bags in 101 games last season, mostly at Low-A. The Dodgers have no reason to rush Seager due to the presence of Hanley Ramirez at the big-league level. However, it is worth noting that Seager, who is a shortstop by trade, may end up at third base. Regardless of where he plays, the future is bright for Kyle's younger brother.
Stephen Piscotty, 3B, STL - Piscotty is another player scorching right off the bat. The 23-year-old is slashing .357/.413/.429 with eight RBI through the first 11 games of the season for Triple-A Memphis. Piscotty also had a stellar spring, hitting .342 with one home run and eight RBI in 38 at-bats. However, he was simply caught in a numbers game, which forced him to be sent down to Triple-A to begin the 2014 season. In reality, the depth of the Cardinals may be the biggest issue for Piscotty; Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams and Allen Craig are all players with corner infield backgrounds on the current MLB roster. It will also be interesting to see if Piscotty's power stroke ever develops as hoped; he hit 15 home runs last season in 112 games between High-A and Double-A. Nevertheless, Piscotty could force his way onto the Cardinals' roster with an injury, or could be trade bait if the Cardinals need a boost as they push towards yet another postseason berth.
Henry Owens, P, BOS - Owens was finally tagged for a few runs in his last outing for Double-A Portland, but that still doesn't take away from his impeccable start to the year. Over his first two starts of the season, a span of 12.2 innings, Owens held the opposition scoreless. The 6-6 lefty walked two batters while fanning 18 over that span. Owens allowed two home runs in his latest outing this past Monday, but that still merely brought his ERA up to 2.04 on the season. The flame throwing lefty has battled slight control issues in recent history, but his strikeout stuff is evident; Owens punched out 169 batters in 135 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2013. As long as his command doesn't falter, the 21-year-old could be one of the best pitching prospects in baseball heading into 2015, when he will likely make his MLB debut.
David Dahl, OF, COL - 2013 was a year to forget for Dahl. He came into last season with huge expectations, fresh off torching the Pioneer League through 67 games after being drafted as an 18-year-old in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft . He slashed .379/.423/.625 with nine home runs, 57 RBI and 12 stolen bases. However, he battled injury and immaturity in his second season, playing in just 10 games for Low-A Asheville. There were rumblings within the Colorado organization that Dahl had a major attitude problem. Hoping to start off this season fresh, Dahl rededicated himself in the offseason, and thus far has been able to step onto the field and produce some positive results. He recently smacked a home run in three consecutive games at Low-A. Thus far in 2014, the 20-year-old outfielder is hitting .267/.313/.600 with four home runs, seven RBI and one stolen base through 11 games. perhaps more importantly, though, the mumblings of immaturity seem to have dissipated. Here's hoping that Dahl continues back on the path of prospect glory.
Ketel Marte, SS, SEA - Marte is a sleeper prospect. The 20-year-old is hitting .395/.422/.488 with two stolen bases through 11 games for Double-A Jackson. Though he will likely never hit for power (three total home runs in the minors), Marte has flashed decent speed. He swiped 20 bags between Low-A and High-A last season, a number that should only increase with experience and growth. He also hit .304 in 98 games at Low-A as a 19-year-old. Marte does not walk much, but he also does not strike out a lot. The switch-hitting middle infielder has shown the ability to handle the bat and make contact. Marte does not have the makings of a star, but with the limited fantasy options in the middle of the infield, he is worth keeping on your radar, even with Nick Franklin and Brad Miller ahead of him on the depth chart.
Tyrone Taylor, OF, MIL - Taylor is an intriguing prospect. A supremely gifted athlete, Taylor performed better than expected at Low-A last season. A second-round selection in 2012, he batted .274/.338/.400 with eight home runs, 57 RBI and 19 stolen bases at Low-A. The centerfielder's power should improve as he matures, and he is a candidate to eventually steal 25-plus bases. He also struck out just 63 times in 122 games, showing advanced plate discipline for his age. Taylor was promoted to High-A to begin the 2014 campaign and is hitting .265 with five RBI and two thefts thus far. It may take some time, but Taylor's stellar approach at the dish should pay dividends down the road for the Brew Crew.
Tyler Glasnow, P, PIT - Glasnow has a lower back injury which has delayed the start of his 2014 season. He had a breakout 2013 campaign in which he fanned a staggering 164 batters in just 111.1 innings for Low-A West Virginia. The 6-7 righty held opposing batters to an anemic .142 BAA. Glasnow’s ERA was sparkling as well, as the 20-year-old notched a pristine 2.18 ERA. The back injury isn’t supposed to keep him out long, and he will be reporting to High-A when healthy. However, back injuries can be fickle, so it remains to be seen if he will be bothered by the ailment even upon his return. It would be wise to monitor his progress, as he became a chic pickup in deep keeper leagues last season.
Anthony Santander, OF, CLE - An extremely young, switch-hitting outfielder, Santander is mostly projection at this point. He played 61 games as an 18-year-old at Low-A and more than held his own, batting .242 with five home runs, 31 RBI and six steals. Those may not seem like eye-popping numbers, but if you extrapolate those statistics over a complete season, they are very similar to prospects like Raul Mondesi Jr. or Dorsyss Paulino, teenaged prospects who played at Low-A last season and are thought of much more highly than Santander. So, why is he a downgrade if his praises are being sung? This season, he has remained at Low-A but has gotten off to a brutal start. Now 19 years old, Santander is just 4-for-36 (.111) through 10 games. He has one RBI, no stolen bases and 12 strikeouts over that span. Santander still has plenty of upside, but he’s not exactly tearing the cover off of the ball to begin his second go-round at Low-A.
Hunter Dozier, 3B, KC - Dozier was a surprise top-10 selection in the 2013 draft, likely a high pick due to the Royals wanting to assure they could sign the player they selected. It’s not like he was viewed as a scrub, though, and he rewarded the faith of the Royals last season. Dozier posted a slash line of .308/.397/.495 with seven home runs, 52 RBI and three steals in 69 games, mostly in the Pioneer League. This season has been a different story for Dozier, who has been unable to find his footing at High-A. He is batting just .174/.269/.239 with five RBI through 13 games for the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Whereas Dozier showed superior plate discipline in the Pioneer League, notching more walks than strikeouts, he has fanned 13 times in 11 contests at High-A while drawing just four walks. It is still early, but Dozier was viewed as a reach in the 2013 draft, and he is not projected as a star. The more he struggles, the more the questions will remain.
Stryker Trahan, C, ARI - Trahan is off to a rough start to the 2014 campaign. If you take out the four-RBI game on April 6, it's even worse. In total, Trahan has nine RBI through 11 games this season but is batting just .182 with a .191 OBP for Low-A South Bend. His plate discipline has been incredibly poor; the 19-year-old backstop has drawn one walk while fanning 14 times. Stryker is young and learning the most difficult position in baseball, so perhaps he should be given some slack. However, the worrisome part is that Trahan's hitting was supposed to be the strong point of his game. The solidly built backstop projects to have above-average power but would lose value if he ended up moving out from behind the dish, which remains possible. Trahan is admittedly raw and a work in progress, but this can't be the start he envisioned.