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Who would you take: Acuna Jr. or Vlad Jr.?

March 14, 2019

As the MLB Pipeline staff runs around Spring Training, hitting every camp before the start of the season, it’s been fun to watch prospects perform in big league games. The cuts, reassignments to Minor League camp, have been coming more frequently now as Opening Day looms, though there are still

As the MLB Pipeline staff runs around Spring Training, hitting every camp before the start of the season, it’s been fun to watch prospects perform in big league games. The cuts, reassignments to Minor League camp, have been coming more frequently now as Opening Day looms, though there are still several prospects competing for big league jobs. Stay tuned for a story on Friday featuring one prospect per organization who has stood out this spring.

Prospects can still stand out once they’re on the Minor League side, of course, but that’s largely hidden from public view. Stay tuned for our continuing reports from each camp to find out who some of those are. Knowing certain prospects are having great springs can be a heads up about where they might start a season. A great Spring Training doesn’t necessarily guarantee a strong regular season, but if an organization is on the fence about where to send a player, how he plays now could convince the powers that be to push him up a level.

One of the questions in this week’s Inbox covers that very subject: where some prospects will start the year. I tackled that the best I could, knowing some players could push themselves into that picture faster than anticipated this spring. But first, a comparison of two of the best prospects we've seen in the past several years:

The battle of the juniors! In many ways, this is an apples to oranges comparison just because they are such different types of players. Both have been our No. 1 prospect, and both are talented offensive players. But that’s where the comparison ends.

Guerrero Jr., as we have stated many times, is the best hitting prospect we’ve ever seen, the first one we’ve given an 80 hit grade to on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. The Blue Jays' top prospect adds 70 power to it as well, and he really does have the chance to be a generational kind of offensive contributor. Once he gets past this injury, he’ll impact the Blue Jays lineup at age 20.

We’ve already seen what Acuna Jr. can do in the big leagues. The National League Rookie of the Year had all of his tools on display in Atlanta. He displays all five tools on any given day, and he’s only 21 years old.

How to pick just one? I'll answer this question with long-term success in mind, not just this season. It’s a tough call, but I think I am going to risk incurring the wrath of colleague Jim Callis by giving a slight edge to Acuna Jr., only because he can impact the game in so many different ways. I could easily see Guerrero Jr. being such a dominant hitter to offset that, but we can cross that bridge when we get to it.

Double-A is always a fantastic level for top prospects, and it’s when you can generally see players separate themselves. That old adage that prospects who can perform well in Double-A can do so in the big leagues has a lot of truth to it. And it’s possible that players who start the year in, say, the Eastern League, will finish it in the big leagues.

When contemplating this question, I only worked with players I think will start the year in the EL. Watch the video below for a couple of names to keep an eye out for -- top prospects who will almost certainly get to the league at some point this season.

By my count, there are seven members of the current Top 100 who will start the year in the EL, four hitters and three pitchers. Plan a trip early before some of these guys play their way up to Triple-A or even the big leagues.

1) Carter Kieboom, SS, Nationals (25)

2) Triston McKenzie, RHP, Indians (41)

3) Matt Manning, RHP, Tigers (52)

4) Estevan Florial, OF, Yankees (57)

5) Andres Gimenez, SS, Mets (58)

6) Adonis Medina, RHP, Phillies (77)

7) Colton Welker, 3B, Rockies (95)

When we visit Spring Training camps, we often check in on the most recent Draft class because seeing how they are approaching their first full year of pro ball can be very interesting. There’s a lot of unknown when it comes to these players, given that the player development staff has only had the summer and perhaps instructional league play to really see how they compete.

These days, a lot of teams do much more than that. Largely gone are the days of saying goodbye to a recent draftee after instructs and not seeing them again until they report for their first Spring Training. Some teams have moved instructs from the traditional fall to a mini-camp over the winter. There are strength and conditioning camps and Minor Leaguers report earlier than ever. All of this is explained to say that expectations are laid out before the official start of Spring Training in many instances.

Of course, Spring Training does allow time to have a draftee as part of the organization with literally everyone else in one place at the same time. And even with additional time with prospects during the offseason, there can be some unknown about how a new acquisition will take to the organization’s philosophy. First and foremost is how they adhere to an offseason strength and conditioning plan. I do think there is some breath-holding over what kind of shape a prospect will show up in (not just for draftees).

It’s especially important for players who were high schoolers or college players the year before to really buy into the offseason program so they are able to compete for a full 140 games, more than they’ve ever played. Showing up not ready to go can set development back quite a bit and makes it tougher to evaluate whether their tools will play at this level.

Beyond that, I think there’s the expectation that they’ll carry themselves like professionals during Spring Training and prepare accordingly for the season ahead. There are always hopes in terms of where a newly drafted player might start the year (with a full-season club is optimal), but even if it doesn’t always work out as planned, if a player is putting in the work to maximize his tools, then an organization can’t ask for more than that.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.