2015 MLB Draft Prospects: Ranking the Top Sleeper at Every Position

With the NCAA regionals set to begin on Friday, fans will soon have the opportunity to view some of the top draft prospects in the 2015 class, whether it is college shortstops Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman, prep outfielder Daz Cameron, left-handed pitcher Tyler Jay or right-hander Carson Fulmer.

However, this year’s crop of talent—which we explored in depth earlier this week—extends far beyond the aforementioned college standouts, and with 40 rounds of drafting over a three-day period, teams will have plenty of opportunities to find value where others don’t.

With that in mind, we're going to break down the top sleeper candidates for the upcoming draft, focusing on one prospect at each position who isn’t getting the publicity or fanfare he deserves but projects well at the next level.

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MLB Draft Big Board 2015: Mike Rosenbaum’s Complete Predraft Rankings

With the 2015 MLB Rule 4 draft less than two weeks away, one would think that the teams with early first-round picks already know who they’re going to take. However, due to a lack of impact players at certain positions in this year’s class, as well as the injuries to some of its more talented arms, there’s still little clarity as to how the draft might unfold outside of the first few picks. (And they aren't even a sure thing, depending on who you ask.)

Although this predraft ranking highlights many of the important names in the 2015 class, there’s still plenty of time for players to improve their stock before the draft, especially with the College World Series on the horizon and most prep prospects busily working out for potential suitors.

With that being said, here are the top-75 overall prospects for this year’s draft, complete with a look at how the class stacks up at each position, as well as some of its top tools.

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Stock Up, Stock Down on MLB’s Top 5 Prospects After 1 Month

Early arrivals by some of baseball's top prospects turned out to be a major storyline during the season's first month.

The Chicago Cubs captured all the headlines with their decision to promote phenoms Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, but we've also seen the big league debuts of other highly regarded prospects such as Carlos Rodon (White Sox), Kevin Plawecki (Mets), A.J. Cole (Nationals) and Michael Lorenzen (Reds).

However, those are just a few players in what should be a steady influx of young talent into the majors throughout the season.  

Using Bleacher Report's ranking of the 100 Future MLB Stars, here is an in-depth look at the early returns on baseball's five-best prospects in 2015.

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7 Top MLB Prospects Who Won’t Live Up to Sky-High 2015 Expectations

It’s hard to not get excited when projecting the future impacts of baseball’s top prospects. Unfortunately, with that excitement usually come unreasonable expectations, which, when not met, can cause younger players to be unfairly perceived as “disappointments.”

These players won’t necessarily have bad years, but it might be difficult for them to live up to the high expectations ascribed to them at the beginning of the season. Of course, expectations for prospects come in all different shapes and sizes, as one player might be expected to make an impact in the major leagues, while another is expected to prove he belongs at a certain level in the minors.

With all that said, here are seven top MLB prospects who won’t live up to sky-high expectations in 2015.

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Hidden Under Kris Bryant Hype, Addison Russell Is Future MLB Superstar

The Chicago Cubs aren’t messing around.

Days after calling up uberprospect Kris Bryant, the Cubs are expected to call up phenom Addison Russell on Tuesday, according Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

Russell will be in Pittsburgh for Tuesday night’s game and is expected to make his major league debut at second base.

While the news of Russell’s promotion comes as a surprise, there had been growing speculation that the Cubs might turn to the 21-year-old sooner rather than later after shifting him from shortstop to second base late last week. However, few expected him to get the call this soon.

Entering Tuesday, Cubs second basemen ranked last in the major leagues with a dismal .369 OPS and were yet to collect an extra-base hit. And with Javier Baez on the bereavement list (and in the minor leagues), Tommy La Stella on the disabled list and both Jonathan Herrera and Arismendy Alcantara not producing, it was clear some sort of change needed to happen.

The decision to promote Russell, who was acquired from the Athletics last July in the Jeff Samardzija trade, on April 21 indicates team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer believe he gives them the best chance to win moving forward. More importantly, it confirms that the organization has its sights set on a postseason berth in 2015.

With Russell, it’s not a question of whether his game is ready for the major leagues. Rather, him opening the season in the minor leagues had more to do with the Cubs’ logjam at both middle infield positions.

Russell had a great showing during spring training in his first camp with the Cubs, as he batted .317/.349/.488 with one home run, four doubles and six RBI in 13 games while playing exceptional defense at shortstop. Yet, with aforementioned names ahead of him on the organizational depth chart, the 21-year-old was assigned to Triple-A Iowa to begin the season.

"I couldn't tell him what to work on," manager Joe Maddon said about Russell, per Carrie Muskat of MLB.com, in late March after he was assigned to Triple-A Iowa. "He's that accomplished at that age. I told him, 'Just keep doing what you're doing.'"

And that’s exactly what he did: At the time of his call-up, Russell was batting .318/.326/.477 with one homer and four doubles through 46 plate appearances.

Epstein mentioned last Friday—the day of Bryant’s major league debut—that he was pleased with Russell’s start to the season, but he didn’t hint as to what the future might hold for the youngster.

"He's playing very well," Epstein told Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com. "He hasn’t been at Triple-A all that long (seven games). But he’s playing great. He's been having great at-bats, using the whole field. He's played outstanding at shortstop the first week of the season. He'll continue to develop at Triple-A, and we'll see what happens."

Russell may be young and inexperienced, but there’s little doubt about whether his tools and skills will translate immediately in the major leagues.

As a 6’0”, 200-pound right-handed hitter, Russell makes a lot of hard contact thanks to his plus bat speed and innate bat-to-ball skills, and he’s really started driving the ball to all fields with authority over the last year. His swing will get long at times and result in some whiffs, especially when he chases elevated fastballs. But Russell gets the barrel through the zone so quickly that he should be able to maintain a favorable contact rate on par with the 76.2 percent clip he owns over parts of four minor leagues seasons (244 games).

On top of that, Russell has fared well against right- and left-handed pitchers alike, and his advanced approach and pitch recognition should lead to plenty of walks and high on-base percentages during his career.

Russell’s combination of plus bat speed and a deep point of contact should produce 20-25 home runs at the highest level, possibly more if he can convert some of his ground-ball outs and strikeouts into fly balls. Though a majority of Russell’s home runs have been to his pull side, he does have excellent opposite-field power that stands to play more in the big leagues against better velocity. Meanwhile, Russell’s feel for using the whole field has resulted in a solid 39.8 percent extra-base hit rate in his career, and he’s likely to always tally a high number of doubles and triples to go along with the homers.

Russell’s speed is a plus tool at the present, but his body type and capacity to add even more strength—not to mention any lingering effects from his hamstring injuries in the last two years—suggest he’ll be closer to an above-average runner at maturity.

Combine that with plus athleticism and natural base-stealing instincts, and it’s easy to envision Russell swiping 15-20 bags in a given season. Even if that’s not the case, the 21-year-old’s speed will always make him an extra-base threat.

Russell started just five games at second base for Iowa before his promotion, but there’s every reason to believe he’ll be able to learn the position and make adjustments on the go at the highest level.

For starters, Russell is already a better defender than Starlin Castro, argues ESPN.com’s Keith Law, and it’s long been believed that the former would eventually force the latter off shortstop.

"Russell is the best shortstop of the entire group, so his arrival could hasten a chain of position switches with Baez going to third and Bryant to right field. It also could put Starlin Castro, who is showing signs of life with the bat again, on the trade block in the next 12 months, depending on Russell's health and progress in the minors."

More specifically, Russell’s plus athleticism and quick feet give him incredible lateral range and result in many highlight-reel plays, and he’s become especially slick when charging the ball. In general, he plays the position with a lot of confidence and creativity, two qualities that will aid his transition to second base moving forward.

Now that he’s arrived, it’s a safe bet that Russell will be in the lineup almost everyday, because, well, he’s simply that good. Plus, it’s hard to imagine the Cubs front office would promote the 21-year-old at the beginning of a crucial developmental year and not offer him everyday at-bats.

Russell, like teammates Bryant and Jorge Soler, isn’t a finished product, per se, and therefore will inevitably endure some growing pains at the highest level. However, all three players truly are special talents with seemingly infinite potential, and the Cubs are wise to allow their elite prospects to go through their final developmental stages in the major leagues.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Hidden Under Kris Bryant Hype, Addison Russell Is Future MLB Superstar

The Chicago Cubs aren’t messing around.

Days after calling up uberprospect Kris Bryant, the Cubs are expected to call up phenom Addison Russell on Tuesday, according Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

Russell will be in Pittsburgh for Tuesday night’s game and is expected to make his major league debut at second base.

While the news of Russell’s promotion comes as a surprise, there had been growing speculation that the Cubs might turn to the 21-year-old sooner rather than later after shifting him from shortstop to second base late last week. However, few expected him to get the call this soon.

Entering Tuesday, Cubs second basemen ranked last in the major leagues with a dismal .369 OPS and were yet to collect an extra-base hit. And with Javier Baez on the bereavement list (and in the minor leagues), Tommy La Stella on the disabled list and both Jonathan Herrera and Arismendy Alcantara not producing, it was clear some sort of change needed to happen.

The decision to promote Russell, who was acquired from the Athletics last July in the Jeff Samardzija trade, on April 21 indicates team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer believe he gives them the best chance to win moving forward. More importantly, it confirms that the organization has its sights set on a postseason berth in 2015.

With Russell, it’s not a question of whether his game is ready for the major leagues. Rather, him opening the season in the minor leagues had more to do with the Cubs’ logjam at both middle infield positions.

Russell had a great showing during spring training in his first camp with the Cubs, as he batted .317/.349/.488 with one home run, four doubles and six RBI in 13 games while playing exceptional defense at shortstop. Yet, with aforementioned names ahead of him on the organizational depth chart, the 21-year-old was assigned to Triple-A Iowa to begin the season.

"I couldn't tell him what to work on," manager Joe Maddon said about Russell, per Carrie Muskat of MLB.com, in late March after he was assigned to Triple-A Iowa. "He's that accomplished at that age. I told him, 'Just keep doing what you're doing.'"

And that’s exactly what he did: At the time of his call-up, Russell was batting .318/.326/.477 with one homer and four doubles through 46 plate appearances.

Epstein mentioned last Friday—the day of Bryant’s major league debut—that he was pleased with Russell’s start to the season, but he didn’t hint as to what the future might hold for the youngster.

"He's playing very well," Epstein told Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com. "He hasn’t been at Triple-A all that long (seven games). But he’s playing great. He's been having great at-bats, using the whole field. He's played outstanding at shortstop the first week of the season. He'll continue to develop at Triple-A, and we'll see what happens."

Russell may be young and inexperienced, but there’s little doubt about whether his tools and skills will translate immediately in the major leagues.

As a 6’0”, 200-pound right-handed hitter, Russell makes a lot of hard contact thanks to his plus bat speed and innate bat-to-ball skills, and he’s really started driving the ball to all fields with authority over the last year. His swing will get long at times and result in some whiffs, especially when he chases elevated fastballs. But Russell gets the barrel through the zone so quickly that he should be able to maintain a favorable contact rate on par with the 76.2 percent clip he owns over parts of four minor leagues seasons (244 games).

On top of that, Russell has fared well against right- and left-handed pitchers alike, and his advanced approach and pitch recognition should lead to plenty of walks and high on-base percentages during his career.

Russell’s combination of plus bat speed and a deep point of contact should produce 20-25 home runs at the highest level, possibly more if he can convert some of his ground-ball outs and strikeouts into fly balls. Though a majority of Russell’s home runs have been to his pull side, he does have excellent opposite-field power that stands to play more in the big leagues against better velocity. Meanwhile, Russell’s feel for using the whole field has resulted in a solid 39.8 percent extra-base hit rate in his career, and he’s likely to always tally a high number of doubles and triples to go along with the homers.

Russell’s speed is a plus tool at the present, but his body type and capacity to add even more strength—not to mention any lingering effects from his hamstring injuries in the last two years—suggest he’ll be closer to an above-average runner at maturity.

Combine that with plus athleticism and natural base-stealing instincts, and it’s easy to envision Russell swiping 15-20 bags in a given season. Even if that’s not the case, the 21-year-old’s speed will always make him an extra-base threat.

Russell started just five games at second base for Iowa before his promotion, but there’s every reason to believe he’ll be able to learn the position and make adjustments on the go at the highest level.

For starters, Russell is already a better defender than Starlin Castro, argues ESPN.com’s Keith Law, and it’s long been believed that the former would eventually force the latter off shortstop.

"Russell is the best shortstop of the entire group, so his arrival could hasten a chain of position switches with Baez going to third and Bryant to right field. It also could put Starlin Castro, who is showing signs of life with the bat again, on the trade block in the next 12 months, depending on Russell's health and progress in the minors."

More specifically, Russell’s plus athleticism and quick feet give him incredible lateral range and result in many highlight-reel plays, and he’s become especially slick when charging the ball. In general, he plays the position with a lot of confidence and creativity, two qualities that will aid his transition to second base moving forward.

Now that he’s arrived, it’s a safe bet that Russell will be in the lineup almost everyday, because, well, he’s simply that good. Plus, it’s hard to imagine the Cubs front office would promote the 21-year-old at the beginning of a crucial developmental year and not offer him everyday at-bats.

Russell, like teammates Bryant and Jorge Soler, isn’t a finished product, per se, and therefore will inevitably endure some growing pains at the highest level. However, all three players truly are special talents with seemingly infinite potential, and the Cubs are wise to allow their elite prospects to go through their final developmental stages in the major leagues.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

7 Prospects Turning Heads in 1st Week of the Minor League Season

The 2015 minor league baseball season is just over a week old, but there already have been countless impressive performances by top-ranked prospects, both hitters and pitchers, with many of those players also making immediate impacts at new, more challenging levels.

So, which players are off to the best start, you ask?

After sifting through endless box scores, I've written up seven of the most impressive prospects from the past week, with an emphasis on prospects who appeared in Bleacher Report’s 100 Future MLB Stars.

Here are seven top prospects who turned heads during the first week of the minor league season.

 

Michael Conforto, LF, New York Mets

2015 Stats (A+): 8 G, .321/.429/.607, 4 XBH (2 HR), 11 RBI, 6 BB, 3 K

Selected with the No. 10 overall pick in last year’s draft, Conforto was assigned directly to High-A St. Lucie this year (bypassing the Low-A level) after batting .331/.403/.448 with three home runs last summer in the New York-Penn League.

He projects to hit for average and consistently reach base at a high clip, though questions remain about his potential power frequency in the major leagues. However, Conforto’s early display of power in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League certainly is a good sign.

 

Trevor Story, SS/2B, Colorado Rockies

2015 Stats (AA): 8 G, .414/.514/.724, 5 XBH (HR), 7 RBI, 6 BB, 10 K

Story, 22, struggled last season after a promotion to Double-A, batting just .200/.302/.380 in 56 games. However, he’s certainly off to a hot start this year in the Eastern League, with a .441 batting average and five extra-base hits through eight games.

Story still has some serious approach and swing-and-miss issues, but his athleticism, power and ability to play both middle-infield positions could get him to the major leagues by the end of the season.

 

Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Chicago Cubs

2015 Stats (AA): 6 G, .476/.593/.667, 4 2B, 6 BB, 3 K

A slow starter in previous years, Vogelbach is batting .444 with four doubles, five walks and three RBI so far, and he’s hit safely in each of Tennessee’s first six games. The 22-year-old is experiencing the Double-A level for the first time after batting .268/.357/.429 with 45 extra-base hits (16 home runs), 76 RBI and a solid 91/66 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 560 plate appearances last season for High-A Daytona (in the challenging Florida State League).

Vogelbach has a future as a big league first baseman and/or designated hitter, though it’s still unclear where he fits in the Cubs’ long-term plans.

 

Christian Arroyo, SS/2B, San Francisco Giants

2015 Stats (A+): 7 G, .321/.367/.679, 6 XBH (2 HR), 5 RBI, 2 BB, 10 K

Arroyo is off to a hot start in the hitter-friendly California League, as he’s already collected six extra-base hits over seven games, including a pair of home runs.

The 19-year-old batted .333/.378/.469 with 23 extra-base hits last season in 58 games for short-season Salem-Keizer, although it did come following an early-season demotion from Low-A Augusta.

Arroyo hit only six home runs in 89 games between both levels and projects for below-average power at maturity, but he should have more balls leave the park this year in the hitter-friendly California League.

 

Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland Athletics

2015 Stats (AA): 7 G, .273/.448/.727, 4 XBH (3 HR), 7 RBI, 7 BB, 7 K

Olson, 21, led the High-A California League with 37 home runs in 2014, and he also paced the league in runs scored (111), total bases (278) and walks (117), all while batting .262/.404/.543 in 138 games.

His 6’4", 236-pound frame and long arm leave holes in his swing and lead to a fair amount of swing-and-miss (almost 22 percent of the time in 2014). However, he also generates plus power that projects favorably in the major leagues. Olson could be an option for the A’s, either at first base or designated hitter, at some point later this season.

 

Alex Reyes, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

2015 Stats (A+): 2 GS, 10.1 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 20 K

Reyes, 20, has opened his season at High-A Palm Beach with 10 strikeouts in back-to-back games. His impressive starts come after a dominant second half of 2014 at Low-A Peoria, as he finished the season with a 3.62 ERA, 2.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio and .207 opponents’ batting average in 109.1 innings.

Reyes is among the most projectable pitching prospects in the minors, possessing an enticing combination of athleticism and stuff. Reyes could finish the season in Double-A if he can improve his changeup and develop better control and command, which would put him on track for a potential MLB debut in late 2016.

 

Jose De Leon, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

2015 Stats (A+): 2 GS, 9 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, BB, 13 K

After an underwhelming professional debut in 2013, De Leon put himself on the map last season with a jaw-dropping performance at rookie-level Ogden in which he led the Pioneer League in strikeouts (77) and strikeouts per nine innings (12.8) while posting a 2.65 ERA in 54.1 innings.

Yet the 22-year-old was even more impressive after he moved up to the Low-A Midwest League, with a 1.19 ERA and an insanely good 42-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 22.2 innings spanning four starts.

De Leon’s uptick in velocity last season pushed his fastball into the mid-90s, and the improved velo also turned his slider into a true swing-and-miss offering, registering in the low 80s with excellent depth and bite.

The right-hander allowed just one hit in five innings and struck out 13 batters in his High-A debut. With a few more performances of that nature, De Leon could wind up spending most of the season in Double-A alongside phenom Julio Urias.

 

All stats courtesy of MiLB.com and reflect games through April 16.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Introducing the Next Wave of MLB Superstars Currently in the Minors

Good morning and happy Kris Bryant Day.

The arrival of generational stars Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Manny Machado in the major leagues during the 2012 season set a new standard for all future rookie classes.

Yet, despite the lofty expectations, the overall influx of young talent in the major leagues last season was just as impressive as the now legendary 2012 class.

Top-ranked prospects such as Jacob deGrom, Gregory Polanco, George Springer and Marcus Stroman made immediate impacts last year upon reaching the major leagues, and they since have justified the hype ascribed to them at the onset of their respective careers.

Still, all of the aforementioned players began the season in the minor leagues. This year should be no different, as there's another promising collection of potential superstars on the verge of reaching The Show.

Here is a preview of Major League Baseball’s next wave of superstars currently in the minor leagues.

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MLB’s Top 5 Pitching Prospects at Each Minor League Level

The 2015 Minor League Baseball season kicked off last week, with games being played across all four full-season levels. 

This year, each level features countless top pitching prospects, as many of the game's best young arms are either stationed in the low minors or are on the cusp of reaching the major leagues.

Earlier in the week, we looked at the five best hitting prospects at each level, highlighting guys such as Ozhaino Albies, Clint Frazier, Carlos Correa and Kris Bryant. Now, it's time to do the same with pitchers.

With that said, here are the top five pitchers from the Low-A, High-A, Double-A and Triple-A levels, respectively, at the onset of the 2015 season.

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Early Winners, Losers of MLB’s Biggest Offseason Trades

If we were to only look at a team's record and place in the standings, picking the winners and losers of the biggest trades made this past offseason in baseball would be simple. But where’s the fun in that?

From All-Stars to MVP and Cy Young Award candidates, players who run the gamut of individual success at the major league level—and some who have yet to get a taste of big league action—found themselves on the move this past winter.

So, let's take a closer look at the teams and players involved in these deals and see which ones are the biggest winners and losers this early in the 2015 MLB season.

 

Winners: San Diego Padres

It was a big winter for the San Diego Padres, as new general manager A.J. Preller acquired a slew of impact hitters to hopefully improve an offense that finished last in the major leagues in batting average (.226), on-base percentage (.292) and slugging (.342) in 2014.

Targeting right-handed power hitters, Preller traded for an entirely new outfield with deals for Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton, and he also added some thump at third base and behind the plate in Will Middlebrooks and Derek Norris, respectively.

Through 10 games this season, the new-and-improved Padres' 43 runs scored has them tied with the Dodgers and right behind the Rockies (45) for most in the National League. On top of that, the team’s offense ranks fifth in the major leagues with a .278 batting average as well as seventh in OPS (.755).

Upton has been the most productive of their new additions, batting .351/.405/.703 with at least one hit in all 10 games, and he also has three home runs, seven RBI and nine runs scored. His eighth-inning homer Wednesday off Randall Delgado broke a 2-2 tie and ultimately won the game for the Padres.

Kemp is still looking for his first homer for the Padres, but he's still off to a nice start otherwise, with a .341 batting average, three doubles, two triples and seven RBI through 10 games. Upton and Kemp have driven in a combined 14 runs so far, 33 percent of San Diego’s runs.

Meanwhile, Myers seems to have adjusted to his new role of Padres leadoff hitter/center fielder, as he’s already scored eight runs and stolen two bases while batting .293 with a team-leading five doubles. However, it is somewhat worrisome that he’s yet to draw a walk through 42 plate appearances.

But what was arguably Preller’s biggest offseason move didn’t transpire until hours before the start of the 2015 season, when he pried closer Craig Kimbrel from the Braves as part of a larger deal in which the Padres take on a majority of his and Melvin Upton Jr.’s remaining contracts.

So far, it’s been business as usual for baseball’s best closer. Kimbrel picked up his third save in as many chances Wednesday, and he’s now thrown five scoreless innings with six strikeouts to begin the season.

 

Winners: Detroit Tigers

With an MLB-best 8-1 record entering Thursday, everything has gone right for the Detroit Tigers to open the season—well, except for former ace Justin Verlander and Opening Day closer Joe Nathan’s respective trips to the disabled list, that is.

While Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Ian Kinsler have raked out of the gate, batting a combined .351 with 23 runs scored and 26 RBI through nine games, the Tigers’ explosive offense has also received significant contributions from offseason acquisitions Yoenis Cespedes and Anthony Gose.

Cespedes, who came over from the Red Sox in exchange for Rick Porcello, has posted a .308 batting average with five extra-base hits this season, although he’s yet to hit a home run yet in a Tiger uniform. For what it’s worth, however, he has taken one away in left field.

Detroit’s acquisition of Gose from the Blue Jays occurred relatively early in the offseason and seemed to fly under the radar, but the 24-year-old has quickly opened eyes this season with a .391 batting average, six runs scored, four extra-base hits and five RBI despite playing in only five games.

After losing Max Scherzer to free agency, it was widely assumed that the Tigers would pursue one of the other top pitchers on the open market. Instead, the organization upgraded its starting rotation through a pair of trades, acquiring right-handers Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon from the Yankees (as part of a three-team deal) and Reds, respectively.

Greene, 26, made a name for himself last season as a rookie in the Yankees starting rotation, pitching to a 3.78 ERA (3.73 FIP) and striking out 23.5 percent of all batters faced.

Simon enjoyed a breakout 2014 campaign in the Reds’ starting rotation, posting a 3.44 ERA and earning a trip to his first All-Star Game. However, many saw his strong performance as a fluke given his 4.33 FIP and therefore questioned Detroit’s decision to acquire the 33-year-old.

Simon has pitched just about as well as possible in his first two starts, going 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA over 13.1 innings. Greene, meanwhile, has been even more dominant to begin the season, winning both of his starts behind a stellar 0.50 WHIP and 16 scoreless innings.

Greene and Simon’s overwhelming success thus far is a major reason why the Tigers lead all 30 clubs in ERA (1.91) and opponents’ OPS (.490) and rank second in WHIP (0.86). However, neither hurler should be expected to keep carrying the team’s rotation.

 

Losers: Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox’s two big trades last winter centered around building a more efficient and sustainable starting rotation, which is why the team targeted a pair of younger pitchers who were also extension candidates.

Boston received right-hander Rick Porcello from Detroit during the offseason in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes, and the two sides recently agreed on a four-year, $82.5 million contract extension through 2019. The 26-year-old sinkerballer has pitched well in both starts this season, posting a 3.86 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 14 innings, and, as usual, he’s done a great job generating ground-ball outs.

Unfortunately, his new long-term teammate, Wade Miley, hasn’t fared as well.

The Red Sox acquired Miley from Arizona during the offseason and then bought his remaining arbitration years with a three-year, $19.25 million pact. The 28-year-old registered a 4.34 ERA last season in 201.1 innings in the desert, but he also saw an uptick in strikeouts, and the advanced metrics (3.50 xFIP) suggested that he deserved better. He also induced plenty of grounders, which is always a good thing in a hitter-friendly ballpark.

Granted, it’s an incredibly small sample size, but Miley just hasn’t looked sharp during his first two starts for the Red Sox, a notion reinforced by his 10.57 ERA in 7.2 innings thus far. It certainly didn’t help that he allowed seven runs in his last outing and failed to escape the first inning.

However, Miley’s track record of success speaks for itself, and it shouldn’t take long for him to overcome the slow start with his new team.

 

All stats are courtesy of MLB.com and reflect games through April 15.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Bleacher Report’s 100 Future MLB Stars

Welcome to Bleacher Report's 100 Future MLB Stars.

The goal of the project is to assess players' individual skills using unique scoring systems for each spot on the diamond to determine who is most equipped to have an impact in the major leagues.

For position players, this meant looking at their five respective tools (using the 20-80 scouting scale): hitting, power, speed, arm strength and defense. We tailored the distribution of points to fit each position, meaning first basemen are held to a higher power standard, catchers are held to a higher defense standard and so on. 

For pitchers, we looked at their fastball/velocity, best breaking ball, changeup and command. And since we’re dealing strictly with prospects, we focused solely on pitchers who project as starters long term. So, no relievers.

Another important thing to know is that we're not interested in looking back at prospects' previous seasons. Since we're talking about the future of baseball, we are mostly interested in looking ahead to determine whether certain skills could get better or worse. And since we're looking at pure upside, things such as age, experience (as in we're even including players yet to appear in a professional game) and injury have been de-emphasized.

We sorted rankings by age in instances where multiple prospects drew the same score, with younger players getting the edge. A player had to have held rookie status (fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched, per Major League Baseball) at the start of the 2015 season to qualify for this list.

We hope you enjoy B/R's 100 Future MLB Stars.

 

Talk prospects with Mike on Twitter: @GoldenSombrero

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Mookie Betts Ready to Become MLB’s Next True 5-Tool Star in 2015

The Boston Red Sox celebrated their 2015 home opener Monday with a decisive 9-4 win against the Washington Nationals.

However, the afternoon belonged to center fielder Mookie Betts, Boston’s 22-year-old phenom who has continued to amaze with his athleticism, tools and feel for the game since debuting last season.

By now, you’ve likely seen his highlight reel from the first two innings of the game, but just to recap: Betts robbed Bryce Harper of a home run in the first inning with a fully extended, leaping catch over the right-center field fence and then showcased his tremendous speed and instincts in the bottom half by stealing both second and third base on the same play following a leadoff walk.

In the second inning, Betts turned around an inside fastball from Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann for a three-run home run, a no-doubter over Fenway’s Green Monster. (And just for good measure, he plated a run with an infield single in the third.)

Hanley Ramirez put it perfectly following the game, via Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald, saying, “It’s the Mookie Show.”

As an immensely talented young player as well as a member of Boston’s overcrowded outfield situation, Betts was one of the more talked-about young players in baseball during the offseason. The Philadelphia Phillies reportedly asked for Betts in a trade for ace Cole Hamels, an offer the Red Sox wisely declined.

Amazingly, the 22-year-old pushed the arrow on his hype meter even further during spring training, as he batted a blistering .429 with eight doubles, two triples, two home runs and stole a pair of bases in just 19 games. Betts beat out Cuban star Rusney Castillo—who’s making more than $11 million this season—with the performance and secured the rights to the Opening Day center field job.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox made it clear that they believe in Mookie Betts.

Granted he’s played in just 59 big league games, but it can be argued that Betts’ numbers—especially when considering his minor league track record—are the groundwork for what could be a spectacular career.

Betts has shown extreme patience during his time in the major leagues, as he saw an average of 4.34 pitches per plate appearance last season. He’s shown even more extreme plate discipline in the sense that he rarely swings at pitches outside the zone:

Betts also stands out for his elite contact ability, as he owns an 87.3 percent contact rate and 4.7 percent swinging-strike rate as a big leaguer. Add in speed that permits him to beat out ground balls and a legitimate feel for using the entire field, and you have the makings of a potentially special hitter.

"He gets himself on time, he's able to handle multiple types of pitches in the strike zone, and he's facing some pretty damn good pitching in spring training here,” said manager John Farrell of Betts during spring training (via Lauber).

Betts’ rocket home run Monday off Zimmermann perfectly highlighted the sneaky power he possesses. Though he’s listed at just 5’9”, 180 pounds, Betts has plus bat speed that gives him the confidence to turn around high-end velocity.

“The pitch that he hit out, that was in and off the plate. You don’t see too many guys turn on a ball like that,” said teammate and starting pitcher Rick Porcello about Betts’ dinger, via Michael Hurley of CBS Boston.

On top of that, his natural barrel path produces fly balls at a rate that’s been consistently above league average throughout his professional career. Betts might not develop much power to the opposite field, but he’s already shown plenty of thump to his pull side early in his career, and there’s every reason to believe more is on the way.

Having played center field in only 35 big league games, the defensive metrics haven’t really seen enough of Betts to offer a proper evaluation. Anyone who watched his rookie season observed his occasionally adventurous routes, as they often led to spectacular but completely improvised plays. However, Betts worked hard this spring to improve his jumps and routes. And being a quick learner, the results were immediate.

"I think I've improved better as far as routes, and getting to balls better," Betts said via Jen McCaffrey of Masslive.com. "I'm learning how to put my head down and run after it. I think I'm taking some strides."

As for those instincts that enabled him to both rob a home run and steal two bases on one throw in his first home opener at Fenway Park, well, those are the type of things that come naturally to Betts. His ability to learn and make adjustments at the highest level has drawn rave reviews from his teammates and coaches.

David Ortiz, who certainly has seen his share of promising young players come and go during his 18-year career, has endorsed Betts as a “superstar.”

"He's a kid, an unbelievable athlete," Ortiz said, via Richard Justice of MLB.com. "It's how hard he works and the way he tries to do something different every day. At that age, as smart as he is, his athleticism and the way he approaches the game, it's a no-doubter that he's going to be a superstar.”

Meanwhile, his manager has been particularly impressed with Betts’ maturity and perpetual willingness to learn, via McCaffrey:

"The biggest thing that stands out is he feels comfortable in his own skin,” Farrell said. “So he’s not afraid to make a mistake, not afraid to ask a question that might expose him. He’s asking those questions to improve and hopefully shorten down that natural timeline to be an established major league player. You do that in combination with your abilities and wanting to find out. If a mistake is made, make it be your only time and adjust from there.”

The baseball world can’t get enough of Betts right now, but it’s only because he keeps giving us more and more to be excited about.

Fans will grow to love Betts (if they don’t already, that is) for his electric playing style and highlight-reel feats. However, the true reason for believing in Betts as a potential “superstar” is because the scouting supports the stats. That’s a great sign for any young player, let alone a 22-year-old already enjoying success at the game’s highest level.

If The Mookie Show were an actual television series, it might be wise for the network to lock up the program for a long, long time.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB’s Top 5 Hitting Prospects at Each Minor League Level

The 2015 Minor League Baseball season kicked off Thursday, with games being played across all four full-season levels. The day was full of standout performances from many of baseball’s most promising young hitters.

Making his full-season debut with Low-A Greenville, 2014 first-round draft pick Michael Chavis (No. 26 overall) cranked a game-tying home run in the seventh inning and then came back in the ninth to deliver a walk-off double.

Minnesota Twins third base prospect Miguel Sano, who missed the entire 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, played in a game for the first time since late 2013 and picked up where he left off with a solo home run.

And while he’s not much of a prospect, we’d be remiss not to mention the Opening Day performance of New York Yankees outfield prospect Ramon Flores, who hit for the cycle as part of a 4-for-4 performance that included three runs scored, two RBI and a walk.

With all that said, here are five must-follow hitters from each full-season level who will put up big numbers in 2015.

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Each MLB Division’s ‘Next Big Thing’ Entering 2015

Just because the next Mike Trout or Bryce Harper might not show up for another 10-20 years doesn't mean that Major League Baseball is devoid of young players with superstar potential who are ready to take the stage as the "next big thing."

But what is it that qualifies a player for this list? It's quite simple, actually, but I still implore you to read though it:

1. The player cannot have completed a "full season" in MLB (400 or more at-bats or 150 innings for starting pitchers).

2. Each player must be under the age of 25 as of Opening Day 2015.

3. He must be expected to play at the MLB level during the 2015 season (whether all year long or as an in-season call-up).

Other than that, it comes down to my own projections and expectations for each player—based on minor league performance, early MLB returns and roster depth/needs at the MLB level.

Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon, Miami Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich and New York Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom were among those who took the step into MLB stardom in 2014.

Here are six players, one from each division, who could do the same in 2015. 

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Fact or Fiction on Top MLB Prospects’ Hot, Cold Spring Starts

Spring training is in full swing, as we’re now more than a week into Cactus and Grapefruit League play. More importantly, we’re only 26 days away from Opening Day, with the Chicago Cubs set to host the St. Louis Cardinals on April 5.

With the spring-exhibition season underway, speculation abounds as to the immediate futures of some players. This is especially true for top prospects looking to make their mark in a quest to earn an Opening Day roster spot, or at least a call-up later in the season.

So, let’s break down some of these top-prospect scenarios in this week's edition of Fact or Fiction.

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2015 MLB Rookies Who Are Being Hyped Up Too Early

When we evaluate, project and rank prospects, we are essentially hyping them up. It’s just part of the process.

Every player that reaches the major leagues is a special talent and worthy of a degree of excitement, but when a highly touted prospect races through the minor leagues and draws glowing reviews along the way, he quickly becomes a huge deal.

Many of these promising young players are given a chance to prove they belong at the highest level every year, and many fail to meet what are usually lofty expectations. For this article, we’re interested at guys who are safe bets to reach the major leagues in 2015. But please keep in mind that in no way does a player being “hyped too early” mean he’s “overrated” or a “bust.” Basically, we’re looking at players already receiving entirely too much hype.

With that being said, here are five notable 2015 rookies being hyped too early.

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Projecting Every MLB Team’s Most Difficult Cut or Demotion

Over the next few weeks, teams will face difficult decisions as they begin to trim down their rosters to the maximum 25 players by Opening Day.

While many of these fall under the category of a "good problem to have," some teams could risk losing a player who is out of options to waivers. A veteran in camp as a non-roster invitee could potentially opt out of a minor league contract if not on the big league roster. 

We must also consider the mindset and readiness of a young player when finalizing Opening Day rosters. Will that player be overwhelmed in the majors if handed a roster spot prematurely? And will that player's confidence be shattered if he were to struggle? Would that player lose confidence if demoted to the minors? 

All of this must be taken into account as teams choose the 25 players who will take the field on the first game of the regular season.

Here are our projections for each team's most difficult cut or demotion.

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Didi Gregorius Ready for Challenge of Reaching Potential, Taking on N.Y.

After Derek Jeter’s retirement, one of the biggest questions heading into Major League Baseball’s offseason was how the New York Yankees would replace The Captain at shortstop.

Based on previous years, the assumption was that the Yankees would sign an aging free agent such as Hanley Ramirez. However, general manager Brian Cashman decided to take a different route, acquiring Didi Gregorius from the Arizona Diamondbacks in early December as part of a three-team deal.

“I was a little surprised about the trade, I’m not going to lie,” Gregorius recently told Bleacher Report. “Because, you know, it’s the Yankees.”

To be pursued by the Bronx Bombers clearly meant something to the 25-year-old. Meanwhile, that the Yankees traded for Gregorius, of all people, was particularly appropriate.

When the Diamondbacks acquired Gregorius prior to the 2013 season, Kevin Towers, the team’s general manager at the time, said the shortstop reminded him of a young Derek Jeter.

Now, Gregorius is poised to play the same position in the same park occupied by Jeter for the better part of the last 20 years. It goes without saying that he has big shoes to fill, and it’s almost a guarantee that expectations will be unreasonably lofty.

As Jeter’s successor, Gregorius is fully aware he’s in a special and unique situation.

“I don’t look at it as being a long-term replacement, because I’m not really replacing him,” said Gregorius with a chuckle. “It’s not like he’s moving to second or third base.

“But it’s amazing to be playing shortstop for the Yankees after Jeter. I’m pretty sure he’s coming out here [spring training] to talk to the team, and I’m sure he’ll have advice for me, and I’ll be asking him questions.”

Gregorius has always drawn rave reviews for his defense at shortstop, which is more or less the reason he’s now been included in two separate three-team trades in the last three years.

Gregorius has impressive range in all directions as well as natural fluidity at the position, and the defensive metrics support his reputation as a strong defender at shortstop.

Specifically, FanGraphs’ overall defensive rating (3.9 Def, min. 1,000 innings) for Gregorius over the last two seasons places him ahead of guys like Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Adeiny Hechavarria and—wait for it—Derek Jeter.

He's also tied with Ian Desmond for 16th among shortstops in defensive runs saved (minus-1 DRS) during that time frame, and he ranks 19th in Ultimate Zone Rating (minus-3.7 UZR).

The biggest knock on Gregorius’ defense is that his footwork and body control have a tendency to be inconsistent, which, as the metrics confirm, might limit his playmaking ability at shortstop. That said, his athletic 6’2” frame allows him to cover ground well, and his arm strength across the infield is an easy plus.

Offensively, Gregorius has shown flashes of promise over parts of three seasons in the major leagues, but he has yet to develop the overall consistency to hold down an everyday role.

Gregorius’ first full season in the major leagues in 2013 was his best offensive campaign to date. Playing in 103 games for the Diamondbacks, he batted .252/.332/.373 with seven home runs, 16 doubles and promising strikeout and walk rates of 16.1 and 9.2 percent, respectively, over 404 plate appearances.

However, his overall production was below league average (92 wRC+), and his career-high 1.4 fWAR was heavily influenced by his strong defense, via FanGraphs.

The emergence of rookie Chris Owings last season hurt Gregorius’ development, as the 25-year-old batted just .226/.290/.363 with six home runs to produce a 76 wRC+ over 299 plate appearances.

Specifically, Gregorius’ offensive struggles stemmed from a decreased aggressiveness outside the strike zone (rather than inside), and he also had problems making contact against quality secondary pitches.

There’s something to be said for Gregorius’ ability to consistently post an extra-base hit rate above 50 percent (he posted a 51 percent clip in 2013 and followed it with 58 percent last season). But with 13 career home runs in 724 plate appearances, Gregorius is unlikely to offer much over-the-fence power in his career.

Yet as a left-handed hitter who hits a lot of fly balls, it’s possible that Gregorius might enjoy a slight power spike playing at Yankee Stadium, which, coincidentally, was the scene of his first MLB home run on April 18, 2013.

“I’m looking forward to hitting at Yankee Stadium,” said Gregorius. “Everybody talks about the short porch in right field, but I’m not going to become a dead-pull hitter. Maybe I’ll hit a line-drive home run, you never know; but I’m planning on using the entire field.”

One area of focus for Gregorius moving forward will be improving against same-sided pitching, as he enters the 2015 season with a .184 batting average, zero home runs and 25 percent strikeout rate in 180 career plate appearances against southpaws.

“I focused on that this offseason because I’ve really never seen a lot of left-handed pitching, and you can’t get comfortable against them if you’re not seeing them,” stated Gregorius.

“I worked with Giants hitting coach Henry Meulens, and he helped me learn to stay closed against lefties, and I’ve already been talking about it with the hitting coaches here, too. So we’re making improvements.”

The Yankees’ decision to gamble on Gregorius’ age and upside was a healthy risk, as he’s a guy with five years of team control who can offer modest power from the left side of the plate to go along solid baserunning and defense.

From Joel Sherman of the New York Post:

A person familiar with the way the Yankees rate players say they add points to a player’s offensive ability based on how much he helps on defense, and that is why they had such interest in Gregorius. Plus, the Yankees feel it is hard to find offense in this market, particularly at shortstop. A team can improve by scoring more or giving up less. The Yankees believe Gregorius will help them give up less while still having the chance to grow into a competent hitter.

Gregorius knows the unavoidable comparisons to Jeter are likely to follow him through his first season in New York, and he’s eager to distinguish himself on the field from the future Hall of Famer. However, he also has a realistic grasp of the situation.

“I’m not going to put pressure on myself,” he said. “I’m just going to relax and play the game right and be the best I can be whenever I go out there. Don’t worry about anything else; just go game by game.”

For Gregorius, succeeding Jeter at shortstop for the Yankees is an afterthought to proving he’s an everyday player.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Didi Gregorius Ready for Challenge of Reaching Potential, Taking on N.Y.

After Derek Jeter’s retirement, one of the biggest questions heading into Major League Baseball’s offseason was how the New York Yankees would replace The Captain at shortstop.

Based on previous years, the assumption was that the Yankees would sign an aging free agent such as Hanley Ramirez. However, general manager Brian Cashman decided to take a different route, acquiring Didi Gregorius from the Arizona Diamondbacks in early December as part of a three-team deal.

“I was a little surprised about the trade, I’m not going to lie,” Gregorius recently told Bleacher Report. “Because, you know, it’s the Yankees.”

To be pursued by the Bronx Bombers clearly meant something to the 25-year-old. Meanwhile, that the Yankees traded for Gregorius, of all people, was particularly appropriate.

When the Diamondbacks acquired Gregorius prior to the 2013 season, Kevin Towers, the team’s general manager at the time, said the shortstop reminded him of a young Derek Jeter.

Now, Gregorius is poised to play the same position in the same park occupied by Jeter for the better part of the last 20 years. It goes without saying that he has big shoes to fill, and it’s almost a guarantee that expectations will be unreasonably lofty.

As Jeter’s successor, Gregorius is fully aware he’s in a special and unique situation.

“I don’t look at it as being a long-term replacement, because I’m not really replacing him,” said Gregorius with a chuckle. “It’s not like he’s moving to second or third base.

“But it’s amazing to be playing shortstop for the Yankees after Jeter. I’m pretty sure he’s coming out here [spring training] to talk to the team, and I’m sure he’ll have advice for me, and I’ll be asking him questions.”

Gregorius has always drawn rave reviews for his defense at shortstop, which is more or less the reason he’s now been included in two separate three-team trades in the last three years.

Gregorius has impressive range in all directions as well as natural fluidity at the position, and the defensive metrics support his reputation as a strong defender at shortstop.

Specifically, FanGraphs’ overall defensive rating (3.9 Def, min. 1,000 innings) for Gregorius over the last two seasons places him ahead of guys like Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Adeiny Hechavarria and—wait for it—Derek Jeter.

He's also tied with Ian Desmond for 16th among shortstops in defensive runs saved (minus-1 DRS) during that time frame, and he ranks 19th in Ultimate Zone Rating (minus-3.7 UZR).

The biggest knock on Gregorius’ defense is that his footwork and body control have a tendency to be inconsistent, which, as the metrics confirm, might limit his playmaking ability at shortstop. That said, his athletic 6’2” frame allows him to cover ground well, and his arm strength across the infield is an easy plus.

Offensively, Gregorius has shown flashes of promise over parts of three seasons in the major leagues, but he has yet to develop the overall consistency to hold down an everyday role.

Gregorius’ first full season in the major leagues in 2013 was his best offensive campaign to date. Playing in 103 games for the Diamondbacks, he batted .252/.332/.373 with seven home runs, 16 doubles and promising strikeout and walk rates of 16.1 and 9.2 percent, respectively, over 404 plate appearances.

However, his overall production was below league average (92 wRC+), and his career-high 1.4 fWAR was heavily influenced by his strong defense, via FanGraphs.

The emergence of rookie Chris Owings last season hurt Gregorius’ development, as the 25-year-old batted just .226/.290/.363 with six home runs to produce a 76 wRC+ over 299 plate appearances.

Specifically, Gregorius’ offensive struggles stemmed from a decreased aggressiveness outside the strike zone (rather than inside), and he also had problems making contact against quality secondary pitches.

There’s something to be said for Gregorius’ ability to consistently post an extra-base hit rate above 50 percent (he posted a 51 percent clip in 2013 and followed it with 58 percent last season). But with 13 career home runs in 724 plate appearances, Gregorius is unlikely to offer much over-the-fence power in his career.

Yet as a left-handed hitter who hits a lot of fly balls, it’s possible that Gregorius might enjoy a slight power spike playing at Yankee Stadium, which, coincidentally, was the scene of his first MLB home run on April 18, 2013.

“I’m looking forward to hitting at Yankee Stadium,” said Gregorius. “Everybody talks about the short porch in right field, but I’m not going to become a dead-pull hitter. Maybe I’ll hit a line-drive home run, you never know; but I’m planning on using the entire field.”

One area of focus for Gregorius moving forward will be improving against same-sided pitching, as he enters the 2015 season with a .184 batting average, zero home runs and 25 percent strikeout rate in 180 career plate appearances against southpaws.

“I focused on that this offseason because I’ve really never seen a lot of left-handed pitching, and you can’t get comfortable against them if you’re not seeing them,” stated Gregorius.

“I worked with Giants hitting coach Henry Meulens, and he helped me learn to stay closed against lefties, and I’ve already been talking about it with the hitting coaches here, too. So we’re making improvements.”

The Yankees’ decision to gamble on Gregorius’ age and upside was a healthy risk, as he’s a guy with five years of team control who can offer modest power from the left side of the plate to go along solid baserunning and defense.

From Joel Sherman of the New York Post:

A person familiar with the way the Yankees rate players say they add points to a player’s offensive ability based on how much he helps on defense, and that is why they had such interest in Gregorius. Plus, the Yankees feel it is hard to find offense in this market, particularly at shortstop. A team can improve by scoring more or giving up less. The Yankees believe Gregorius will help them give up less while still having the chance to grow into a competent hitter.

Gregorius knows the unavoidable comparisons to Jeter are likely to follow him through his first season in New York, and he’s eager to distinguish himself on the field from the future Hall of Famer. However, he also has a realistic grasp of the situation.

“I’m not going to put pressure on myself,” he said. “I’m just going to relax and play the game right and be the best I can be whenever I go out there. Don’t worry about anything else; just go game by game.”

For Gregorius, succeeding Jeter at shortstop for the Yankees is an afterthought to proving he’s an everyday player.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Boom or Bust MLB Prospects Who Could Get White Hot This Spring

It seems every year there is at least one prospect who, despite not being viewed as regarded by the industry as a whole, blows past expectations in spring training and earns a spot on an Opening Day roster.

Most of the time, they are guys who do one or maybe two things well: They have enough of one tool that they're projected floor performance in the major leagues at least should be tolerable.

At the same time, if the player doesn't meet those expectations, then his team won't have to worry as much about a demotion or reduced playing time hurting his development as they would with a top-ranked prospect.

Here’s a look at some boom or bust prospects worth following closely in spring training.

 

Peter O’Brien, C, Arizona Diamondbacks

Peter O’Brien furthered his reputation as one of the minor league’s premier sluggers last season by launching 34 home runs in 427 plate appearances between the High-A and Double-A levels. But as it has been the case during his career, O’Brien’s power came at the expense of consistent contact, as the 24-year-old fanned 26 percent of the time in 2014 compared to a five percent walk rate. That said, he still batted .271/.316/.594 and showed some defensive value by playing first base, right field and catcher.

When the Diamondbacks acquired O’Brien from the Yankees last July at the trade deadline, they did so for his potential to hit 25-plus home runs and possibly stick behind the plate. You see, O’Brien has long been scrutinized for his raw defense; detractors point to the natural challenges associated with his 6’5” frame, arguing that it limits his mobility and blocking ability.

However, the Diamondbacks believe O’Brien can handle catching in the major leagues, especially after the work he put in defensively during last year’s Arizona Fall League. In fact, general manager Dave Stewart recently stated that O’Brien could be the team’s long-term catcher, per Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic:

After trading Miguel Montero during the offseason, Arizona is, for whatever reason, content with opening the season with a combination of Tuffy Gosewisch, Gerald Laird and Rule 5 pick Oscar Hernandez behind the plate. It also means O’Brien could receive an extended look this spring, as he’s already drawing rave reviews for his exploits in batting practice.

While O’Brien’s power and upside certainly stands out most in the group—even if it translates to a high strikeout rate and low batting average—it will be his glove that ultimately determines his role and impact in the major leagues.

 

Steven Moya, OF, Detroit Tigers

Speaking of prodigious power, Steven Moya’s has always ranked among the best in the minor leagues, but a rash of injuries—including Tommy John surgery—caused him to fall behind the developmental curve, which is why he reached Double-A Erie for the first time this year in his sixth professional campaign.

Suffice it to say that Moya helped to make up for the lost time in a big way, as he was named MVP of the Double-A Eastern League after leading the circuit in home runs (35), RBI (105), extra-base hits (71) and slugging percentage (.555)—all career highs. On top of that, his 35 bombs, 286 total bases, 71 extra-base hits and 105 RBI were single-season franchise records for Erie. The Tigers rewarded Moya for his breakout season with a September call-up,

A 6’6” left-handed hitter, Moya’s bat speed, strength and leveraged swing fuel his enormous raw power to all fields, but there continues to be concern about his capacity to hit big league pitching. The 23-year-old’s path through the zone can be long, and he still lacks any semblance of plate discipline, which explains his 29.3 percent strikeout rate and 4.2 percent walk rate last season in 549 Triple-A plate appearances. Meanwhile, Moya continues to do the majority of his damage against right-handed pitching.

Even though manager Brad Ausmus has stated that Moya is unlikely to break camp with the team, there’s still a chance the team will consider him for a bench role to begin the 2015 season if either Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez haven’t recovered from their respective injuries. If that were to be the case, then most of Moya’s at-bats would likely come as the designated hitter.

 

Frank Montas, RHP, Chicago White Sox

A pair of knee injuries limited Frank Montas to only 11 starts in 2014, his first season with the White Sox, but the right-hander still made a strong impression during his time with High-A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham and then opened even more eyes in the Arizona Fall League.

The 6’2”, 205-pound right-hander boasts a fastball in the high 90s that eats up opposing hitters. However, in spite of his improved control last season, Montas' delivery involves considerable effort and currently impedes his ability to locate pitches within the strike zone; he won’t dominate as many hitters at the top of the zone at higher minor league levels. Montas struggles to throw strikes consistently with his above-average-to-plus slider and average changeup, with the former serving as his best swing-and-miss offering.

The 21-year-old may be best suited for a bullpen role at the highest level, but any additional improvement to his secondary arsenal and command profile should further his stock as a potential starter.

Montas is a candidate to receive more innings this spring in the wake of Chris Sale’s foot injury, according to Scott Merkin of MLB.com. He’ll have to really impress the organization to win a spot, however, as he’ll be competing against fellow prospects Carlos Rodon and Chris Beck.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com