Prospect Watch: Top 10 outfielders
Twins' Buxton, Cards' Taveras, Bucs' Polanco ranked most-promising future stars
MLBPipeline.com's 2014 Top 100 Prospects list will be unveiled on Thursday on MLB.com, as well as on a one-hour show on MLB Network, airing at 10 p.m. ET. Leading up to that, MLBPipeline.com takes a look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.
Our Top 10 Prospects list of outfielders is brimming with talent. It starts with the consensus best prospect in baseball, the Twins' Byron Buxton, and the best pure hitter in the Minor Leagues, the Cardinals' Oscar Taveras. It also includes a player who nearly had the first 40-40 season in the modern era of the Minors, the Astros' George Springer, and the most devastating runner in the game, the Reds' Billy Hamilton.
1. Byron Buxton, Twins: Ranked the top player in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft and selected No. 2 overall by Minnesota, Buxton was expected to need some time to get acclimated to pro ball. Instead, he hit .334/.424/.520 with 49 extra-base hits and 55 steals in his first full pro season, reaching high Class A at age 19. Buxton reminded low Class A Midwest League observers of Mike Trout -- only with more power than Trout had at the same stage. And his plus power is Buxton's worst tool, falling in behind his top-of-the-scale speed and his well-above-average bat, arm and center-field defense.
2. Oscar Taveras, Cardinals: The most heralded Cards prospect since Albert Pujols, Taveras likely would have contributed to St. Louis' World Series drive if he hadn't injured his ankle in mid-May, effectively ending his season. A career .320/.377/.518 hitter as a pro, Taveras barrels balls with ease. His power and plate discipline have gotten better as he has risen through the Minors, as have his baserunning and defense.
3. Gregory Polanco, Pirates: The Bucs are doing a terrific job of developing center fielders. They have the reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner in Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, who moved to left once he got to Pittsburgh, and Polanco and Austin Meadows (see below) are on the way. Polanco has the potential to have five plus tools, could become a 30-30 man once he reaches his prime, and he owns the arm strength to move and fit well in right field.
4. Albert Almora, Cubs: Scouts considered Almora one of the most advanced high school players in years, which helped him go sixth overall in the 2012 Draft and sign for $3.9 million. His outstanding instincts in all phases of the game may outshine his tools -- but there's nothing wrong with his tools. Almora should hit for high averages and solid power, and he's a potential Gold Glove center fielder with a strong arm.
grading the prospects
5. George Springer, Astros: Springer posted the most eye-popping numbers of any Minor Leaguer in 2013, batting .303/.411/.600 with 37 homers, 45 steals and 83 walks between Double-A and Triple-A. His best asset is his well-above-average power, and he brings plus speed, arm strength and center-field defense to the table as well. Springer's lone weakness is a tendency to swing and miss, but he's also willing to work counts and still could hit for a solid average.
6. Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox: Part of two College World Series championship teams at South Carolina, Bradley Jr. earned a World Series ring as a rookie with the Red Sox after surprisingly making their Opening Day roster. A superb center fielder, he'll be a defensive upgrade over Jacoby Ellsbury, who left via free agency. Bradley Jr. is also an on-base machine who likely will be better than Ellsbury in that regard, too.
7. Joc Pederson, Dodgers: The son of brief big leaguer Stu Pederson, Joc is a talented athlete who had an opportunity to walk on as a wide receiver at Southern California. He'll add to the Dodgers' outfield logjam in the near future, as he has solid tools across the board and 20-20 potential. Pederson gets the job done in center and throws well enough to handle right field if necessary.
8. Billy Hamilton, Reds: Hamilton set a professional baseball record with 155 steals in 2012, and he swiped 13 bases for Cincinnati last September while being used primarily as a pinch-runner. His speed should give him an advantage at getting on base, too, though he needs to develop more discipline at the plate. Primarily a shortstop in his first four pro seasons, Hamilton has made a smooth transition to center field.
9. Austin Meadows, Pirates: The best all-around high school position player in the 2013 Draft, Meadows went ninth overall. His pretty left-handed swing and advanced offensive approach translated into a terrific pro debut, and he projects to be an above-average hitter with solid power. Meadows runs well and plays a quality center field, with a below-average arm the only thing preventing him from being a true five-tool player.
10. Clint Frazier, Indians: Amazingly, two high schools in Loganville, Ga., produced the top two prep position players in the 2013 Draft. Frazier went four picks ahead of his crosstown-rival Meadows, mostly because he has electric bat speed and huge power potential. An above-average runner with a strong arm, he may profile better as a right fielder than a center fielder in the long run.
Like Hamilton, Delino DeShields (Astros) has a 100-steal season in the Minors and has made the move from the infield to center field. While DeShields isn't as quick as Hamilton, he's plenty fast and may have a higher offensive ceiling. The son of the 13-year big leaguer by the same name, he has shown the ability to make adjustments at the plate and could have 15-homer pop.
After going 10th overall in the 2012 Draft and winning Rookie-level Pioneer League MVP honors in his pro debut, David Dahl (Rockies) was suspended for missing a flight at the start of the 2013 season and played in just 10 games before severely tearing his hamstring. He still shows the potential to have plus tools across the board, and he could hit .300 with 20 homers per year once he gets established at Coors Field.