MINORS: Impact prospects on the move

As the 2013 minor league season reaches the half-way point, some of the games top prospects are on the move. Some top prospects like Wil Myers, Nick Franklin, Gerrit Cole, and Anthony Rendon have been called up to the majors, while others have jumped from Low to High-A or from Double-A to Triple-A.  This week we take a look at some elite prospects still in the minors who are now one step closer to the majors.

Miguel Sano (3B, MIN) has the best raw power of any player in the minors. The 20-year-old hit 28 home runs in the MWL last year and simply destroyed pitchers in the FSL to start 2013. In 56 games for High-A Fort Myers, Sano hit .330 with 16 home runs and a .655 slugging percentage, which earned him a promotion to Double-A New Britain. Sano struggled though his first 47 AB, hitting just .191 with 16 strikeouts. Sano draws a decent amount of walks, but needs to make more consistent contact before he will hit for average. Sano has worked hard to improve defensively. Last year he made 42 errors at 3B, while this year has had only 14 miscues, but there is still a lot of work to do in that area. Regardless of his long-term position, the Twins and fantasy owners will likely be more interested in his 80 grade power and will hope the rest of his game continues to improve.

Byron Buxton (OF, MIN) might be the best all-around prospect in baseball and this past week was moved up to Fort Myers in the Florida State League. Buxton, the #2 overall pick in the 2012 draft, blitzed his way through the Midwest League despite being one of the youngest players on the circuit.  He doesn’t turn 20 until December, but hit .341/.431/.559 with 15 doubles, 10 triples, 8 home runs, and 32 SB in 270 AB. He has an advanced understanding of the strike zone enough and drew 44 walks in the MWL, though he also struck out 56 times. Buxton should continue to develop more power as he matures and has as much raw talent as any player in the minors.

Taijuan Walker (RHP, SEA) started the season back at Double-A, but quickly proved he was more than up to the task. On June 26 made his Triple-A debut and tossed six shutout innings. The 20-year-old Walker has a plus 93-96 mph fastball that hits 97 mph, an improved curve, and a decent change-up. He pitches effectively off his fastball and gets plenty of swings and misses.  Prior to being promoted, Walker was 4-7 with a 2.46 ERA, 30 BB/96 K, and a .195 oppBAA in 84 IP. Walker is a flyball pitcher, but that should work just fine in SAFECO.

Yordano Ventura (RHP, KC) doesn't look like your prototypical big league starter, but don’t let his diminutive stature deceive you. Ventura comes after hitters with a plus 93-98 mph fastball that tops out a 102 mph. He complements the heater with a swing-and-miss curveball and a good, but inconsistent, change-up. Ventura got off to a quick start this year, going 3-2 with a 2.34 ERA in 11 Double-A starts, walking 20 while striking out 74 in 57.2 IP. It earned him a promotion to Triple-A Omaha. For now Ventura lacks the type of command scouts look for in a front-line starter and because of his lack of height, he doesn’t get much downward tilt on his fastball. As a result, scouts are split on his long-term role with some seeing him as a potentially elite starter and others as a dominant reliever.

Xander Bogaerts (3B/SS, BOS) continues his rapid ascent to the majors. The 21-year-old Bogaerts breezed through the Eastern League, hitting .311 with 12 doubles and 6 home runs in 219 AB, and advanced  to Triple-A Pawtucket. The transition to Triple-A has been a struggle and he is hitting just .231 in his first 13 games. Since being moved up, Bogaerts has seen action only at DH and 3B, a move many anticipated and one that could be permanent. Long-term, Bogaerts has the athleticism to be an above-average defender at 3B and enough raw power that the move off SS shouldn’t diminish his impact once he reaches the majors.

Maikel Franco (3B, PHI) is having the type of breakout season we hoped for when we put him as the Phillies #2 prospect. Franco is the kind of toolsy athlete that the Phillies love and he has taken huge strides in refining his game. Franco has plus bat speed and an improved approach at the plate. While he showed solid power in the past, he has taken his game to the next level and already has a career high in home runs. Franco hit .299 with 23 doubles and 16 home runs in 264 AB for Clearwater in the FSL and has been even better since moving up to Double-A Reading (17-for-34 with 3 home runs). Franco has 21 walks while striking out just 40 times and looks like the Phillies long-term solution at 3B.

Gregory Polanco (OF, PIT) had a huge breakout in 2012, hitting .325/.388/.572 with 16 home runs and 40 SB. Despite the monster numbers, there were some skeptics who wanted to see a repeat before embracing him as an elite prospect. As we reach the half-way point, Polanco has shown no signs of slowing down and recently earned a promotion to Double-A Altoona. Prior to being moved up, the 21-year-old CF hit .312 in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League with 17 doubles, 6 home runs, and 24 SB.  At 6-4, 170 Polanco has the size to add more power as he matures and has the tools to be a 20/20, .300 hitter. He also has excellent range in CF with plus arm and has developed into one of the best position prospects in the NL.

Noah Syndergaard (RHP, NYM) doesn’t get as much attention as he should. The 20-year-old was part of the R.A. Dickey trade during the off-season and has the size and skills to be a legitimate front of the rotation starter in the majors. Syndergaard pounds the strike zone with an electric mid-90s fastball that tops out a 98 mph. His slider has been much improved this year giving him a second plus offering and he also mixes in a curve and a change-up. Syndergaard was 3-3 with a 3.11 ERA, 16 BB/64 K in 63.2 IP in the Florida State, earning him a promotion to Double-A Binghamton on June 23.  At 6-6, 240, he has the ideal frame for a power pitcher and gives the rebuilding Mets yet another high upside arm.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.