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George Springer Rumors
Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark addressed a host of interesting topics in an interview with Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. Drellich published two separate articles, both are worth a full read: one focusing on draft-related issues and the other on various recent contractual matters at the major league level.
Generally, Clark had positive words for Houston, crediting the team with a “tremendous stable of young talent,” which, along with some recent veteran signings, “suggests that there’s a plan in place and a light at the end of this rainbow.” He noted that the team’s relatively new ownership and management group is “continuing to acclimate.”
Here are some more key takeaways:
- We’ll turn first to the well-publicized matter of the Astros failing to sign recent draftees Jacob Nix and Brady Aiken. Drellich reports that the settlement between the club Nix, which avoided a grievance proceeding, was actually for a value in the six-figure range, not the full $1.5MM he had originally agreed upon for a bonus (as had previously been reported). Aiken, meanwhile, has not taken any formal action — either through the grievance proceeding or otherwise. Clark says that the “entire situation was unfortunate,” but declined to criticize the club for manipulating the draft prrocess (as he had previously charged) and indicated that the focus was on ensuring that the players “land on their feet with an opportunity to get drafted again this year.”
- Drellich explains that the settlement avoided a potentially tricky jurisdictional issue in the grievance matter. Even as the team (if not also the league) bore risk of an adverse judgment from an arbitrator, Nix himself could have won a hollow victory by having the better of the substantive argument but not receiving any actual monetary relief. This is because the draft is a subject of collective bargaining, but non-40-man players like Nix are not members of the union. Clark did not tip his hand on the union’s view regarding possible changes to the draft, but did say he has “a feeling it’ll be a topic of discussion when we sit down in ’16.”
- Last year, the Astros (among other teams) came under scrutiny regarding service time considerations, in their case involving two of the team’s best prospects. Outfielder George Springer turned down an extension offer and started the season in the minors. Per the report, “steps that could have eventually led to a grievance hearing were taken on his behalf,” though that process was halted when Springer was ultimately promoted. Because he missed the first couple weeks of the season, Springer will be controlled for an additional season, though he is lined up to qualify for another arbitration year as a Super Two.
- Meanwhile, first baseman Jon Singleton ultimately accepted a $10MM extension and was simultaneously promoted to the big leagues. That deal — the first of its kind — created quite a stir, though as I explained at the time there were certainly good reasons for the youngster to reach agreement. Clark’s comments were fascinating on this point, given the controversy surround the contract. “We are supportive of every opportunity a player has to sign a contract,” Clark said. “All we ever ask is that the player is as educated as he can be on all the different moving pieces that may enter that conversation. But no, we think it’s great, and we also think it’s a testament to how well the industry is doing that clubs are being willing more and more to make those commitments to guys who are younger and younger.” (If you’re interested in the subject, Singleton’s agent, Matt Sosnick, explained the deal from his perspective in a recent MLBTR Podcast episode, at the 10:33 mark.)
4:30pm: The Astros have issued the following statement regarding the leaked notes:
“Last month, we were made aware that proprietary information held on Astros’ servers and in Astros’ applications had been illegally obtained. Upon learning of the security breach, we immediately notified MLB security who, in turn, notified the FBI. Since that time, we have been working closely with MLB security and the FBI to the determine the party, or parties, responsible. This information was illegally obtained and published, and we intend to prosecute those involved to the fullest extent.
“It is unfortunate and extremely disappointing that an outside source has illegally obtained confidential information. While it does appear that some of the content released was based on trade conversations, a portion of the material was embellished or completely fabricated.”
2:29pm: Extensive trade discussion notes, apparently logged by Astros executives about their talks with other teams, have been leaked onto the site AnonBin here and here, with Deadspin breaking the story and Yahoo’s Jeff Passan verifying the authenticity of the logs. The earliest notes are from June 2013, and the latest are from March of this year. The Astros have yet to comment on the leak, which provides unprecedented detail into how the team values players and approaches trade discussions. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Astros have been reaching out to people around baseball apologizing for the leaks, and plan to issue a statement soon.
A March feature by Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle outlines Ground Control, the Astros’ confidential internal database from which the trade discussion notes were likely taken. At this time, it’s unclear whether the information reached the Internet via a rogue employee of the team, or by some kind of security vulnerability in Ground Control. The trade discussion information, mostly from last summer and offseason, is somewhat dated in the fast-moving baseball hot stove world. The larger ramification is the breach of trust experienced by the many non-Astros executives cited in the notes. It’s unlikely any team would rule out the Astros as a trading partner based on this breach, but some teams could approach talks with added caution. Additionally, I imagine the many other teams with such highly sensitive material online are doubling down on security right now.
The Astros’ trade notes from last summer and offseason range from the blockbuster to the mundane; here are some highlights.
- On November 15th, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow expressed interest with Marlins GM Dan Jennings in slugger Giancarlo Stanton. From the notes: “[Jennings] said he doesn’t think he’ll trade Stanton and the only deal he could think of from us that would work would be [George] Springer and [Carlos] Correa. [Luhnow] said that would not work. [Luhnow] posited a deal around [Jarred] Cosart and [Delino] DeShields.” It’s not a big surprise that Luhnow rejected Jennings’ proposal out of hand, as Correa and Springer were ranked #4 and #19 on Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list for ESPN, and are major building blocks for Houston. That Luhnow didn’t appear to offer either player suggests he was mostly gauging Stanton’s price after an off-year with three years of control remaining. UPDATE: Jennings has commented to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, saying it’s fabricated that they ever offered Stanton to the Astros or any other team, also using the word “laughable.”
- Interest in Astros catcher Jason Castro was strong last offseason, with a few surprising suitors. The Blue Jays and Rangers reached out in mid-October to gauge Castro’s price, the White Sox had “definite high interest,” and Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik told Luhnow in November that he was getting calls from other teams asking if he could get Castro from the Astros for those teams. Zduriencik offered Dustin Ackley and was turned down.
- Notes for the Astros’ summer trade discussions begin at June 17th, 2013. The team ultimately went on to acquire Ronald Torreyes from the Cubs in June, and also dealt veterans Jose Veras, Bud Norris, and Justin Maxwell near the July deadline. The Astros did not end up acquiring any top 100-type prospects, but they sure did ask for the moon. For Norris, the Astros sought Kyle Crick and Clayton Blackburn from the Giants, Dylan Bundy or Kevin Gausman from the Orioles, Marcus Stroman and more from the Blue Jays, Xander Bogaerts, Allen Webster, Jackie Bradley Jr., or Garin Cecchini from the Red Sox, and Tyler Glasnow plus Luis Heredia or Nick Kingham from the Pirates. The Red Sox offered Ryan Lavarnway or Deven Marrero for Norris and were turned down. In the end, the Astros traded Norris and an international draft slot to the Orioles for L.J. Hoes, Josh Hader, and a 2014 competitive balance pick.
- When Nationals GM Mike Rizzo called to express interest in middling Astros starting pitcher Lucas Harrell, who had a 5.17 ERA at the time and nearly as many walks as strikeouts, “[Luhnow] told him we would still need a headliner like [Lucas] Giolito because we still value Harrell highly. Rizzo did not respond immediately.”
Harrell was designated for assignment, outrighted, and traded for a pittance nine months later, so the Astros might have overplayed their hand.
- “Untouchable” players from other teams were revealed through conversations with their executives. White Sox GM Rick Hahn wouldn’t consider trading Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, or Avisail Garcia. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos considered Brett Lawrie off-limits. Pirates outfield prospect Gregory Polanco came up as well, in that GM Neal Huntington wouldn’t include him in any Norris deal. In December talks regarding Harrell, the Giants said they would not discuss Brandon Belt.
- More random notes: Mets executive Paul DePodesta asked Luhnow if the Astros would consider trading shortstop Jonathan Villar in a Daniel Murphy deal in December…the Marlins expressed interest in Jose Altuve, Matt Dominguez, and others in December.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: Baltimore Orioles | Boston Red Sox | Bud Norris | Carlos Correa | Chicago White Sox | Daniel Murphy | Delino DeShields Jr. | Deven Marrero | Dustin Ackley | Dylan Bundy | Garin Cecchini | George Springer | Giancarlo Stanton | Houston Astros | Jackie Bradley Jr. | Jarred Cosart | Jason Castro | Jonathan Villar | Jose Altuve | Kevin Gausman | Lucas Giolito | Lucas Harrell | Luis Heredia | Marcus Stroman | Matt Dominguez | Miami Marlins | New York Mets | Nick Kingham | Pittsburgh Pirates | Ryan Lavarnway | San Francisco Giants | Seattle Mariners | Texas Rangers | Toronto Blue Jays | Washington Nationals | Xander Bogaerts
Astros outfielder George Springer hit two home runs in tonight’s contest against the Mariners, giving him six for the season. After beginning big-league career with a slow start, Springer is now hitting .250/.333/.438 and is looking very much like the power hitter the Astros likely thought they had at the start of the season. Springer made his debut April 16, but all of his six home runs have come since May 8. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.
- Catcher Nick Hundley, who the Orioles recently acquired from the Padres, could wind up being a big-league manager, Corey Brock of MLB.com writes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many managers are former catchers. “Of all the guys that come through that you touch as players, there’s a few guys that you jot down as future staff guys. Managers, coaches, instructors, announcers, whatever,” says current Padres manager Bud Black. “Nick tracks toward the field as a future manager or coach.” Brock points out that Nick’s father Tim is an assistant football coach at UNLV.
- Cubs infielder Darwin Barney has hit badly enough (.175/.250/.250 in 89 plate appearances this season) that he’s approaching a “career crossroads,” Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. Barney is still a valuable defensive player, but his hitting might end up getting him traded or moved into more of a straightforward utility infielder role. Barney has played exclusively at second base this season.
Here are some notes on past, present, and future extension situations around the game:
- The Astros‘ extension offer to then-unpromoted prospect George Springer actually would have guaranteed him just $7.6MM over four years, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. This news represents a correction of Rosenthal’s original report, which cited a $23MM guarantee over seven years. In fact, says, Rosenthal, the $23MM would only have been reached through the exercise of three club options, which would have covered years five through seven of the deal. While this certainly changes the nature of the cost/benefit equation that Springer faced, he would have been subject to team control through 2020 regardless — as is the case at present.
- Likewise, Rosenthal clarifies some details of the offer made by the Pirates to fellow top outfield prospect Gregory Polanco, reporting that the team’s offer would have guaranteed six or seven years in the range of $20MM to $25MM. The length and total guarantee would have shifted based upon whether or not Polanco qualified for an additional year of salary arbitration as a Super Two player. (In that respect, then, the offer looks to be quite similar to the terms agreed upon by the Rays with Chris Archer. As MLBTR reported, Archer’s $25.5MM guarantee hinges upon whether he reaches Super Two status, as expected; if he does not qualify, he would be promised just $20MM.)
- Rosenthal also touches on the situation of free agent-to-be Pablo Sandoval of the Giants. Though talks are currently not taking place, the club is not “ruling out” making another run at an extension for the third baseman. On the other hand, Rosenthal notes that San Francisco could consider adding a different player at the hot corner through free agency or could look to piece together a platoon. Sandoval, who landed in the ninth slot in MLBTR’s first 2015 Free Agent Power Rankings, has struggled to a .191/.262/.294 start through his first 149 plate appearances in 2014.
- Dodgers GM Ned Colletti says that he is still interested in trying to lock up another pending free agent, shortstop Hanley Ramirez, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. Ramirez took the top spot in MLBTR’s list of the top 2015 free agents heading into the year. While he has struggled at the plate recently, Ramirez still owns a .257/.339/.447 slash with five home runs and three stolen bases through 171 plate appearances, though defensive metrics have been down on his work in the field in the early going. “He’s still somebody we’d love to have back,” said Colletti, who noted that he has conveyed that continued interest to Ramirez’s representation.
When the Astros promoted top prospect George Springer earlier this week, it ended a mini-drama that cut to the heart of Major League Baseball's rules concerning Super Two status and free-agency eligibility. MLB, of course, allows players to become free agents after six full years of service. By waiting two weeks after the start of the season to promote Springer, the Astros ensured that they could control his rights through 2020. But by promoting him before June, they also gave him the chance to become a Super Two player. That meant he could be eligible for arbitration following the 2016 season, and go to arbitration four times instead of three, potentially making several million more dollars than he would have made had the Astros waited just two more months to promote him.
The circumstances surrounding Springer's promotion are complex. The Astros offered Springer a seven-year, $23MM deal last September, a deal that would have allowed the Astros to have Springer break camp with the team this spring without concern about Super Two status or the timing of his free-agency eligibility. Springer turned the contract down, and the Astros decided to send him to Triple-A Oklahoma City to start the season, reportedly leading the MLBPA and Springer's agent, Greg Genske, to consider the possibility of a grievance against the Astros.
It isn't clear, of course, whether Springer's service time was the primary consideration in the Astros' decision to send Springer to the minors, or even whether it was a consideration, period. Springer began the season with only 266 (admittedly brilliant) career plate appearances in Triple-A, so it wouldn't have been outlandish for an organization to make the somewhat conservative decision to have him get more seasoning at that level before promoting him.
But many fans and commentators couldn't help wondering about how Springer's status had been affected by MLB's rules. "If Springer was good enough to be offered $23 million, why isn't he good enough to crack the 25-man roster of a team that has finished with the worst record in the majors in each of the past three seasons?" wrote FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal. "Some on the players' side have long felt that clubs act in bad faith when they keep major-league-ready players in the minors for financial reasons."
The timing of Springer's promotion in mid-April thus feels like a compromise. By keeping Springer in the minors for two more weeks, the Astros received an extra year of control, preventing Springer from becoming eligible for free agency after the 2019 season. But they will likely pay Springer more through 2020 than they would have if they had waited a bit longer. Of course, the Astros were within their rights not to compromise — they could have just kept Springer in the minors until June. And again, there may have been developmental considerations at work, too.
The service-time issue is hard to ignore, however, as the Houston Chronicle's Evan Drellich explains in a good piece about why not everyone agrees with the Astros' timing. Drellich quotes analyst and former MLB pitcher C.J. Nitkowski (via Twitter): "It's about the culture & the message you're sending to players/fan[s]: We don't promote on merit, winning is secondary to FA status [seven years] away."
It also appears that the Astros' decision may have been at least somewhat spontaneous. As Drellich points out, the Astros had Springer travel to Colorado Springs for one game with Oklahoma City, only to then join the big-league team in Houston. A planned promotion might well have had Springer play his first big-league game on the road, in order to limit the pressure on Springer. Maybe, Drellich suggests, the Astros intended to wait until June to him, thus avoiding Super Two status, but the Astros offense's awful performance to that point made them change their minds.
From the perspectives of Springer and the Astros, the precise timing of Springer's promotion may not matter much in the long run. If Springer is upset right now (and aside from the talk of a grievance, there's no indication that he is), the Astros will have almost seven years to make it up to him. Regardless, there are likely to be episodes similar to Springer's until or unless MLB and the MLBPA address the service-time issue — and even if they do, it's hard to imagine what solution they might come up with that would allow teams to promote players as soon as they deem them ready, without fear of paying them piles of extra money or worrying about them leaving a year early.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
As I recently discussed, Springer is among the game’s near-MLB-ready prospects who has yet to see any MLB time. If he sticks on the big club for the remainder of the year, Springer would accrue 166 days of service — short of a full season, but more than enough to set himself up to qualify for Super Two status. That means that the Astros will still stand to control him through the 2020 season.
Springer climbed up prospect rating boards after a monster 2013 campaign in which he hit a combined .303/.411/.600, and posted 37 home runs and 45 stolen bases, in 589 plate appearances split between Double-A and Triple-A. Entering the 2014 season, analysts rated Springer between 18th (Baseball America) to 21st (MLB.com) among all MLB prospects. The 2011 first-round pick looked well on his way to a repeat of that performance in the season’s early going.
Looking ahead, Baseball America says that Springer possesses outstanding bat speed but can be beaten with offspeed offerings given his aggressive approach. With plus or better arm, speed, power, and defense tools, BA says that Springer should be a productive big leaguer even if he struggles somewhat (as many expect he will) to make contact at the MLB level.
Though he is a tall and powerful ballplayer, Springer profiles as a center fielder. But with that position occupied in Houston by offseason acquisition Dexter Fowler, Springer will presumably take over in left field for the optioned Robbie Grossman.
SUNDAY: "We'd never use a contract tool to affect a person. They're separate, the business aspect and playing aspect," Astros GM Jeff Luhnow told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
SATURDAY: The MLBPA and George Springer's agent Greg Genske are considering pursuing recourse over the matter of Springer's service time, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports. Genske and the union have not decided what action they will take, if any, but Drellich writes that a grievance appears to be at least a possibility. It is also possible that Springer and the union will take no action.
Springer turned down a seven-year contract from the Astros, and they later sent him to the minors to start the season, perhaps in part because of worries over his service time. If Springer had agreed to the deal, his service time would no longer have been an issue, and the Astros might have been less concerned about having him start the season in the big leagues (although Springer only has 266 plate appearances at Triple-A, so having him start 2014 there isn't necessarily unreasonable, even leaving service time aside).
If Springer were to stick in the big leagues from Opening Day on, he could become eligible for free agency following the 2019 season rather than the 2020 season. Also, the timing of his promotion within the 2014 could affect whether he is eligible for arbitration three times or four, a difference that would likely amount to millions of dollars. Such considerations are routine in the timelines of promotions of top young players, but they do not always sit well with players or fans, since they can prevent worthy players from being in the Major Leagues.
The Astros have optioned top prospect George Springer to the minors, MLB.com's Brian McTaggart tweets. The demotion comes shortly after the news that the Astros had offered Springer a seven-year, $23MM contract before he had even played a day in the Majors. Springer's demotion will likely raise further questions about the effect of MLB service time on teams' promotion decisions. As FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal put it last night, "If Springer was good enough to be offered $23 million, why isn't he good enough to crack the 25-man roster of a team that has finished with the worst record in the majors in each of the past three seasons?" By having Springer start the season in the minors, the Astros can ensure that he will become a free agent after the 2020 season, rather than after the 2019 season. And if they wait to promote him until the early summer, they can limit his number of arbitration-eligible seasons to three rather than four. As Rosenthal points out, if Springer had agreed to the Astros' contract offer, these service-time issues would have been moot.
- Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski says he has not been engaged in any serious trade talks recently, MLB.com's Andrew Simon tweets. Dombrowski offered no specific details about free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew. Meanwhile, it looks like shortstop Jose Iglesias may miss the entire 2014 season with stress fractures in his shins, as CBS Sports' Jon Heyman notes. Iglesias should be able to play in 2015, however.
- Orioles executive Dan Duquette recounts his team's strange offseason in an interview with MASNsports.com's Steve Melewski. The Orioles endured plenty of criticism for their quiet offseason before they swooped in late to sign Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz. "We were trying to sign a number of players and it didn't work out the way we thought it might," Duquette says. "But if we signed the players we signed back in November or December, people would say the Orioles are gearing up." Duquette also says the Orioles will not comment on any extension discussions with shortstop J.J. Hardy.
In an attempt to gain cost certainty with one of their top prospects, the Astros offered outfielder George Springer a seven-year, $23MM contract last September, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports. Since Springer has yet to reach the Major Leagues, the deal would've covered his three pre-arbitration years, his three arbitration years and his first year of free agency.
As Rosenthal notes, Houston's offer resembles Evan Longoria's initial contract with the Rays, a six-year, $17.5MM deal (plus three more years of team options) that quickly became one of the most team-friendly deals in recent baseball history once Longoria blossomed into a superstar. Longoria accepted the deal, however, just a few days into his Major League career and thus assured himself of at least one big payday even if he faltered in the Show.
Springer and his representatives at the Legacy Sports Group turned down the offer, a sign that Springer presumes his performance will eventually merit much more than a $23MM deal. A rival agent tells Rosenthal that Springer's three arbitration years alone could earn him more than $30MM if he lives up to expectations as a consensus top prospect.
Springer, 24, was taken with the 11th overall pick of the 2011 amateur draft and has been dominant in the minors, hitting .299/.394/.558 with 62 homers over 1203 PA and stealing 81 bases in 97 attempts. The 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook ranks Springer as Houston's second-best prospect (behind Carlos Correa), and despite his strikeouts and some doubts about his ability to hit for average, "his arm, speed, power and defense all rate as at least plus tools." Baseball America ranks Springer as the 18th-best prospect in the game, while ESPN's Keith Law (19th) and MLB.com (21st) provide similar rankings.
Springer isn't going to make the Astros' Opening Day roster, which the team argues is due to his need for more minor league seasoning (and a poor Spring Training performance). As Rosenthal rhetorically asks, however, "why would the Astros offer a major-league contract to a player who lacks any semblance of leverage if they do not believe he is capable of playing in the majors?" The practice of keeping prospects in the minors long enough that they can't gain Super Two status is the larger focus of Rosenthal's piece, which he notes is frowned upon by fans, some players and MLBPA chief Tony Clark since it keeps teams from fielding their best possible talent.
The Astros signed second baseman Jose Altuve to a four-year, $12.5MM extension (with two option years) last summer, marking GM Jeff Luhnow's first move towards locking up one of his club's young building blocks. Other top prospects like Correa, Mark Appel, Mike Foltynewicz and more are all team-controlled through the rest of the decade, though one wonders if Luhnow would pursue a Springer-type extension with any of these young stars as well once they're a bit slower to the Major League level.
Where did the year go?
The 2013 minor league regular season is in the books, and the lucky few are currently competing in the playoffs. We've seen a lot of exciting moments during the year. We've also seen a lot of prospects significantly improve their values. To celebrate the best of the best, MLBTR is celebrating the 2013 All-Prospect All-Star Team, which features the top players in the minors at each position. Given the depth at some positions — as well as the lack there of at others — this was no easy task.
The players were chosen by considering a mixture of future potential and statistical results.
Catcher: Austin Hedges, Padres — Because of his abilities on both defense and offense, San Diego's catcher of the future narrowly edged out the Yankees' Gary Sanchez. His abilities on both sides of the ball also impressed his employers, according to Padres Assistant General Manager of Player Personnel Chad MacDonald. "He has the tools and skill set to impact both sides of the ball… and we are excited about his future with the San Diego Padres," MacDonald said.
Hedges will probably never be the strongest offensive catcher in the league but he won't embarrass himself, either. Behind the plate, he's perhaps the best defensive catcher in the minors if you take everything into consideration: arm, receiving, blocking, game calling and leadership.
First Base: Dan Vogelbach, Cubs — This position was the hardest one to find a deserving candidate. The Astros' Jonathan Singleton missed the beginning of the year due to a suspension and then struggled with his consistency. The Angels' C.J. Cron failed to consistently tap into his raw power. Vogelbach, just 20, performed well at two A-ball levels and showed the ability to hit for average and power while also getting on-base at a solid clip.
Brandon Hyde, the Cubs' director of player development, said Vogelbach's successes came from hard work. "It was an impressive season with raw power to all fields," he said. "He has an advanced approach for his age, and he controls the strike zone."
Second Base: Rougned Odor, Rangers — Second base was another tough position to settle on the winner. The Angels' Taylor Lindsey, Cardinals' Kolten Wong, and Twins' Eddie Rosario also received serious consideration before the award went to Odor. The Rangers' prospect hit more than .300 between High-A and Double-A with a strong OPS and 32 stolen bases — all at the age of 19. The left-handed hitter also popped 58 extra base hits, including 41 doubles. With all the middle infield depth in Texas, Odor could make things very interesting — and crowded — in short order.
Third Base: Miguel Sano, Twins — Sano was the runaway winner at third base, although the Cubs' Kris Bryant could give him a run for his money in a year's time (assuming both prospects are still in the minors). The Dominican native launched 35 home runs and produced a .610 slugging percentage. However, he didn't hit for a great average after his promotion from High-A to Double-A, and he combined to strike out 142 times in 123 games, so there are some holes in his game that need to be addressed.
Shortstop: Javier Baez, Cubs — There were five players that were considered in this slot, including Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox), Francisco Lindor (Indians), Addison Russell (Athletics) and Carlos Correa (Astros). Baez, though, came out ahead when considering his outstanding statistical results and the fact that he has a chance to be as good as any other player on the list. Just 20, he finished the year in Double-A and hit a combined 37 home runs with 20 stolen bases and a .920 OPS.
Hyde was impressed with Baez's ability to make adjustments after being promoted to Double-A. "He hit in the middle of the order on a prospect-laden team. He made huge strides defensively and with his plate discipline," Hyde said. "He has a unique combination of raw power, speed and off-the-charts instincts, especially for a 20 year old in Double-A."
Outfielder: George Springer, Astros — Springer, 23, had an eye-popping season while playing at both Double-A and Triple-A. He narrowly missed becoming a 40-40 player (HR-SB) with 37 homers and 45 steals while playing at the highest levels of the minors. Springer's approach produces massive strikeout numbers, but he showed improvements in that area as the year progressed.
The prospect impressed the club's front office not only with his play but also his attitude, according to Quinton McCracken, the Astros director of player development. "George is an exceptional five-tool talent, and even better person. He has great makeup, work ethic, off-the-chart intangibles coupled with incredible athleticism… He's a very special player," he said.
Outfielder: Byron Buxton, Twins — Buxton was the biggest no-brainer on this list. Just 19 and in his first full pro season, the five-tool outfielder played at two A-ball levels while hitting more than .330 and producing double digits in doubles, triples and homers. He also got on base at a .424 clip, stole 55 bases in 74 tries and played above-average defense in centerfield. The Twins have one of the best minor league systems in all of baseball and could be a massive threat in two to three seasons.
Outfielder: Gregory Polanco, Pirates — Polanco edged out a few other players because, at a very young age, he showed a five-tool approach and had an impact in numerous areas. The 21-year-old outfielder showed that he may one day develop into a 20-20 or perhaps even a 30-30 player. After beginning the year in A-ball, he ended the season in Triple-A.
Pirates Director of Minor League Operations Larry Broadway said the most impressive thing about Polanco's growth has been his maturity. "He has fit into each clubhouse and added value to the culture of each club that he's been on," Broadway explained. "He continues to approach the game with a learner's mentality and is always looking to find a way to get better. He's not afraid to make a mistake in the process, which has allowed him to progress well in all areas of his game."
Starting Pitcher: Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks — Bradley and Dylan Bundy grew up playing baseball together, but the former passed the latter on top prospect lists after the Orioles' prospect blew out his elbow. Just 20 years old, Bradley spent the majority of the year in Double-A and finished the season with a combined ERA of 1.84 and 162 strikeouts in 152 innings of work. He also allowed just 115 hits.
Starting Pitcher: Taijuan Walker, Mariners — Utilizing a strong fastball and excellent breaking ball, Walker, who just turned 21 on Aug. 13, made older competition look foolish as he produced outstanding numbers in Double-A and Triple-A before earning his MLB promotion. The right-hander struck out 160 batters in 141 1/3 innings while allowing just 112 hits.
Chris Gwynn, the Mariners director of player development, said Walker is oozing talent but he's also an extremely hard worker. "Going into the offseason last year he realized there were some things he needed to work on to get better," Gwynn said, listing fastball command (down in the zone, to both sides of the plate) and improved secondary pitches as two of those things. "Coming into this season he was a man on a mission… and had a dominant season in Double-A and Triple-A didn't phase him. It shows he wants it really bad."
Starting Pitcher: Noah Syndergaard, Mets — Jameson Taillon (Pirates), Kevin Gausman (Orioles) and Robert Stephenson (Reds) also received consideration as the one of the top pitchers in the minors but the final spot went to the Mets' prospect. Syndergaard showed a rare combination of power (his fastball can tickle triple digits) and control when he struck out 133 batters in 117 2/3 innings and issued 28 free passes. Just 20, the Texas native finished the year with 11 starts at the Double-A level.
Reliever: Steve Geltz, Rays — It's hard to find a worthy reliever because many of the best MLB bullpen aces originally come from the starting ranks. Geltz, though, is still only 25 years old and he was the hardest pitcher to hit in Triple-A (minimum 50 innings) by allowing a batting-average-against of just .152. That mark was actually the seventh lowest in the entire minor leagues. His strikeout percentage (31.3 percent) was good for 12th in Triple-A ball. Not bad for a player that went undrafted and signed with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent in 2008.
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