It’s been quite the offseason around Major League Baseball. Many star players have switched uniforms and a few teams bolstered their position players and bullpens. Most notably, the San Diego Padres, Miami Marlins, Chicago White Sox, and Chicago Cubs beefed up their organizations. No, a World Series Champion can’t be crowned in the offseason nor won on paper, but it’ll be interesting to see how these teams perform during the season.
I want to start by paying recognition to a man that stood for all that can be great for the North Side of Chicago: Ernie Banks. He bled Cubbie Blue and gave hope for Cubs fans that have been waiting since 1908 for a World Series Championship. “Mr. Cub” grew through adversity, losing seasons, and became the first player to win the MVP, in 1958, on a losing team. We can all learn something from Mr. Banks by staying positive and always striving to reach greatness.
Now, the NFL season has come to a conclusion so let’s turn our focus to Major League Baseball. Every fantasy player is looking for that next great gem to lead them to fantasy glory. I can remember waiting for the day that Starlin Castro, Mike Trout, and Bryce Harper got the call to The Show. It’s a great era for Major League Baseball. It’s time for the new wave of stars to shine for decades to come. Here are my rankings for what I call Minor League Maestros: Outfielders.
1. Byron Buxton, CF (Minnesota Twins)
Buxton had a dismal and forgettable 2014 season for Fort Myers and New Britain. An initial wrist injury, suffered in Spring Training, saw him miss a big chunk of the 2014 season while only accumulating a .234 average with four long balls and 16 RBI. Buxton is a five-tool player that has great bat speed and displays great power. He has great speed and covers a lot of ground while manning center field. Taking a look back at 2013, he went for .334/.424/.520. He will put up decent power numbers while swiping bases. Missing nearly a full season of at-bats pushes his arrival time back a bit. Once called up, there’s no reason he can’t overtake the starting center field job. Barring another setback, and assuming he starts hot from the get go, Buxton can be called up as early as the 2015 season.
2. Jorge Soler, RF (Chicago Cubs)
Called up at the end of August, Soler quickly cemented a roster spot for the 2015 season. In 89 at-bats, Soler posted .292/.330/.573. Injuries nagged the outfielder during his minor league career. As of now, the starting right field job is his to lose. Assuming he stays healthy, and plays a full season with the Cubs, he can easily eclipse the 20 homer range and hit a respectable .270. The RBI and run potentials are there batting in a lineup that already features Starlin Castro, Anthony, Rizzo, and newly acquired Dexter Fowler. With the much anticipated arrival of Kris Bryant, as early as the end of April, Soler becomes an intriguing outfield option for a Cubs lineup that has greater potential with each passing day.
3. Joc Pederson, CF (Los Angeles Dodgers)
In 2013, Pederson played second fiddle to teammate Yasiel Puig. That didn’t stop him from demolishing pitching for AAA-Albuquerque. All he did was post .303/.435/.582 while clearing the bases 33 times and driving in 78 runs. The strikeouts were there, whiffing 149 times. This carried over into September striking out 11 times in 28 at-bats with the Dodgers. He will strikeout, but he’s not going to go up to bat clueless. Don’t be surprised if he hits 20-25 home runs while swiping at least 15-20 bags. Joc Pederson will be the starting centerfielder for the 2015 Los Angeles Dodgers.
4. Yasmany Tomás, LF (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Following the “Cuban Conquest” of Yoenis Céspedes, Yasiel Puig, and José Abreu, Tomás found his way to a six-year, $68.5 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 2013, while in Cuba, Tomás batted .289/.364/.538 with 15 home runs. This past season Tomás posted .290/.346/.450 with six home runs. Reports stated the regression due to an arm injury suffered while crashing into an outfield wall. He is built like an NFL fullback standing 6’1” and weighing in at 229. He possesses power stemming from his lower body with an average arm that won’t hinder him playing left field. It’s hard to gauge international players that see a lot of off-speed pitches rather than velocity that is known throughout the MLB. He shouldn’t have trouble adjusting to that aspect. Chase Field has been quite hitter-friendly and Arizona absolutely has an open spot in left field. Assuming Tomás follows suit with Céspedes, Puig, and Abreu, he can make an instant impact. Let’s play it safe and project a .270-.280 average with 15-20 homers. I don’t think you will see Abreu 2.0, but he could fit nicely in fantasy leagues that position outfields to LF, CR, RF. Barring setbacks, his determination and abilities should land him the starting left field job in 2015.
5. Aaron Judge, OF (New York Yankees)
The former Fresno State Bulldog, drafted during the first round of the 2013 draft, possesses great strength to go along with a 6’7”, 230 lb. frame. His frame makes you think NFL tight end but let’s not forget the guy that just signed a $325 million extension in Miami. In his first minor league season, Judge batted a respectable .308/.419/.486. His 131 strikeouts can be of concern if his swing widens out. You can’t teach his raw power and the Yankees will be patient building their next big power hitter. When is the last time they actually had a power hitter come through their minor league system? With that being said, look for Judge to build on his inaugural minor league appearance and on the 17 home runs he hit in 2014. Carlos Beltran, turning 38 at the end of April, is at the end of his phenomenal career leaving a door wide open in right field. If not right field, Judge is in a great spot playing for an American League team that has always had a solid designated hitter. Provided he consistently makes contact, he can arrive in Yankee pinstripes as early as 2016.
I list these players as my top five due to the notion they will immediately have an impact this season. The exception being Judge who looks to make his big league debut in 2016. Players 6-20 can be crucial to target in deep keeper leagues and dynasty leagues.
6. David Dahl, OF (Colorado Rockies) .299/.335/.492 ETA: 2016
Coming off a torn hamstring in 2013, Dahl rebounded nicely in 2014. He’s an above-average defender with good speed and a strong arm. After starting in low-A, Dahl finished the year at high-A. The guy has a knack for getting on base. He’s similar to Adam Eaton (CWS) but with more pop in his bat. Entering 2015 with at-bats under his belt, there’s no reason why he can’t have a break out year in the minors.
7. Albert Almora, CF (Chicago Cubs) .270/.291/.391 ETA: 2016
Almora has a natural feel for the bat that allows him to spray the ball to all parts of the field. He doesn’t strike out a lot and is a solid fielder with a great arm. As with many minor league starlets, staying healthy is the key to his salvation, as well as the Cubs’. This season, he will look to greatly improve his .291 on-base percentage.
8. Josh Bell, RF (Pittsburgh Pirates) .325/.375/.459 ETA: 2016
He is from Texas! And Texas produces some big humans. Oh, and he’s a switch-hitter. A natural left-handed hitter that will face a majority of right-handed pitchers throughout the minors and majors. That being said, he works hard to be able to produce from the right side of the batter’s box. He can mash and will do so wherever he plays. There’s a logjam in Pittsburgh so it will be interesting to see what the organization has in store for Bell. He doesn’t possess the speed to cover the ground in center, nor the cannon for right. Marte is the incumbent starter in left, but does he become dispensable? Pittsburgh has no shortage of options, and it’s a great situation for the organization to be in.
9. Michael Taylor, CF (Washington Nationals) Minors: .304/.390/.526 ETA: Now
Taylor got the call in August after Jayson Werth went down. His 39 at-bats were too small of a sample size to make a judgment. Seventeen were strikeouts, and that makes me a bit uneasy. The power is there as is the athleticism. It’s not impossible that the converted shortstop steals a roster spot from Werth. Spring Training allows manager Matt Williams to tinker with the possibility of shifting Denard Span to left and penciling Taylor in at center. If Taylor can’t shake the “Pedro Cerrano Syndrome” and stay away from good breaking balls, he may start the season in AAA. This isn’t uncommon for young hitters. He will be a great top of the order guy if he learns better plate discipline and should consistently steal 20-30 bases per season.
10. Nomar Mazara, RF (Texas Rangers) .271/.362/.478 ETA: 2016/2017
Mazara possesses the bat speed and wrist strength that leads to his power. His speed is suspect, but his arm makes up for that fact. He’ll start out in AA this season and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds to a full season there. He’ll need to grow into his 6’4” frame, but he turns 20 at the end of April. There’s plenty of time to let him develop. He projects to be a middle of the order hitter that can easily produce 20+ home runs and a .280 average. If he continues to produce there’s no reason why he can’t get a call up sometime during the 2016 season. Maybe, even a “cup of coffee” in September 2015.
11. Austin Meadows, CF (Pittsburgh Pirates) .317/.394/.488 ETA: 2017
Meadows runs into the same issue as Josh Bell. Pittsburgh has a plethora of outfielders. He has great size for a 19 year old, and uses this to his advantage. He will work the count and look to drive the ball. He should be able to build up his strength and improve his power numbers. That being said, if the power never comes along, I can sleep at night knowing I have a center fielder who can get on base. I really like the situation Pittsburgh has moving forward. If they continue to make a push for the NL Central, they could easily flip Bell or Meadows for the missing link. If Hamels becomes available, and would consider an extension, I’d make the call to Philadelphia in a heartbeat.
12. Alex Jackson, Corner Outfield (Seattle Mariners) .280/.344/.476 ETA: 2018
Drafted as a catcher, and immediately converted to outfield, Jackson possesses the size, strength, and arm to be mentioned in the Wil Myers and Bryce Harper conversation. Just like the aforementioned, his swing produces thunder. He managed 82 at-bats in 24 games in Rookie ball. He’ll need to learn to work the count at the professional level. With any power hitter, the strikeouts will occur, but this will be his second season in professional baseball. The Mariners will likely play it safe and groom Jackson into the perfect middle of the order right fielder for years to come. There’s no rush to move him from level to level. He has all the time in the world to build himself into a solid power hitter.
13. Jesse Winker, LF (Cincinnati Reds) .287/.399/.518 ETA: 2015
Winker hits from the left side of the plate and hits for average. He’s shown to be able to hit and has earned the reputation of being a tough out. With that being said, Winker has a great shot at becoming the fourth outfielder for the Reds out of Spring Training. He doesn’t possess a strong arm, but he’s simply a hitting machine. Look for Winker to give you 15-20 home runs, and to be a guy that always seems to be on base.
14. Clint Frazier, CF (Cleveland Indians) .266/.349/.411 ETA: 2017
Frazier becomes one of the biggest mysteries in the minor leagues. He has all the power in the world but strikes out with great frequency. In his first year in low-A ball, he managed to lead the Midwest League in strikeouts. He seemed to be a bit antsy, chasing a lot of first pitches and not being able to react to breaking balls. His approach at the plate and decision making will need to change. The power isn’t going anywhere, but it will be up to him to make the adjustments necessary to move through the Indians’ minor league system.
15. Hunter Renfroe, RF (San Diego Padres) .267/.342/.470 ETA: 2016/2017
Another converted catcher, Renfroe saw a move to the outfield in college. He possesses the arm to play right field, and has good size. The off-season moves by the Padres had to be uneasy for the young outfielder. Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and Wil Myers make it hard to believe Renfroe finds playing time consistently at the big league level. At least, for the Padres. We still don’t know what Myers brings to the table. The 2013 Rookie of the Year saw a lost season after suffering a stress fracture in his wrist. If Myers cannot produce in the pitcher-friendly Petco Park, Renfroe could potentially claim the starting right field job in a few seasons.
16. Dalton Pompey, CF (Toronto Blue Jays) .317/.392/.469 ETA: Now
A September callup, Pompey maneuvered through four levels of professional baseball. He produced at every level in 2014, and shows great potential in the leadoff role. I’m enamored with the fact that he doesn’t strikeout a lot. This is crucial for a leadoff man. His offensive and defensive abilities are ready for the Big Leagues, and can easily steal 40 bases from the leadoff spot. He’s the Canadian version of Billy Hamilton, but with more power and less strikeouts. Only two months into his 22nd birthday, Pompey could be the starting center fielder in 2015, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts out in AAA for a few more at-bats and to add strength in the weight room.
17. Michael Conforto, LF (New York Mets) .331/.403/.448 ETA: 2017
Conforto is the offspring of a former Nittany Lion and synchronized swimming gold medalist. He is a pure left-handed power hitter, who projects to be slotted into the two-hole. Following a stellar collegiate career, Conforto wasted no time raking at Low-A ball. If his above stat line isn’t impressive enough, he had an OPS of .851. The power will be there and he looks to find his way to the Mets in the next few seasons.
18. Brandon Nimmo, CF (New York Mets) .278/.394/.426 ETA: 2016
Mets fans have something to smile about. Nimmo, along with Michael Conforto, look to solidify a Mets outfield with Juan Lagares. With Lagares locking down center field, Nimmo looks to shift over to right field where he will bring solid defense. After reading reports, Nimmo comes from Wyoming where there is no high school baseball. It speaks volumes that a guy out of American Legion baseball has the tools for exposure and become a first round draft pick. He’ll need to cut back on strikeouts. I see him as a bottom of the order guy that can produce 10-15 home runs. He’ll get on base and should produce more runs than RBIs.
19. Stephen Piscotty, RF (St. Louis Cardinals) .288/.355/.406 ETA: Now
The Cardinals organization reminds me of the Green Bay Packers organization in regards to their depth and drafting abilities. The Cardinals always seem to have a guy in the minors waiting to be called up. You have to respect their organization. Piscotty looks to be headed for a career that produces a .300 average with 10-20 home run potential, and 30-40 doubles per season. I’d take that production in heartbeat. He doesn’t strike out often, and he gets on base by hitting and walking. A projected right fielder, I can see him being the Opening Day centerfielder for the Cardinals. Jon Jay doesn’t scare opposing teams, and Piscotty has the chance to bring a breath of fresh air to a Cards lineup that will be atop the Central Division in 2015.
20. Raimel Tapia, OF (Colorado Rockies) .326/.382/.453 ETA: 2017
Tapia has a very interesting swing. His base is extremely wide and it becomes even wider upon the pitcher’s delivery. He makes great contact but strikes out. Once at AA, the scouting report will be out and I can see pitchers taking advantage of Tapia’s poor hitting mechanics. He’s gotten away with it at the A level but how long can it last? His stance and mechanics will need to be adjusted, but it’s worth noting he mustered 72 RBI in 122 games last season. He has the speed to play centerfield, but needs to work on his route running and reads. He’s about to turn 21, and has all the time necessary to develop into a solid professional player. Along with his hitting mechanics and defense, he will need to add muscle to his 160 lb. frame. He’s undersized for a guy standing 6’2”. After watching video, Tapia reminds me of the old Chicago Cubs prospect, Félix Pie. The Rockies will have fun building Tapia into an everyday centerfielder.
Other Notable Players:
Manuel Margot, CF (Boston Red Sox)
Domingo Santana, OF (Houston Astros)
Nick Williams, OF (Texas Rangers)
Brett Phillips, CF (Houston Astros)
Brad Zimmer, CF (Cleveland Indians)
Derek Hill, CF (Detroit Tigers)
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