Top 50 MLB prospects update 

March, 31, 2015
Mar 31
11:25
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Byron Buxton, Kris Bryant & Carlos CorreaGetty Images/USA Today SportsByron Buxton, Kris Bryant and Carlos Correa remain the top three players in Keith's prospect ranks.
Not a lot has changed since my Top 100 prospect rankings in January since no official games have been played; as such, no players have "graduated" from the list and we have little new data to consider. But there's one player who wasn't signed at the time of the top 100, and I've shifted a few players around based on substantive differences in stuff or mechanics. For other players, I've provided a brief thought or update on what early 2015 might hold for them.

The Guidelines

• The rankings are limited to players who still have rookie eligibility; that means they have yet to exceed 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors and have not yet spent 45 days on the active roster of a major league club, excluding call-ups during the roster expansion period after Sept. 1. That means Milwaukee Brewers infielder Luis Sardinas, for instance, is ineligible, based on his days on the 25-man roster.

• Only players who have signed professional contracts are eligible.

• I do not consider players with professional experience in Japan or Korea "prospects" for the purpose of this exercise, which means no Jung-Ho Kang this year (among others). I also exclude Cuban players who are considered professional free agents by Major League Baseball by virtue of their experience in Cuba's Serie Nacional de Béisbol. This list includes Rusney Castillo and Yasmany Tomas, but will consider Cuban players whom MLB treats as amateurs, like Roberto Baldoquin (who just missed this list) and Yoan Lopez.

• When ranking players, I consider scouting reports on players -- usually my own, supplemented with conversations with other scouts and front-office executives as needed -- as well as performance, adjusted for age and context. I've made one adjustment in my ranking philosophy in recent years, favoring higher-upside prospects over lower-ceiling prospects who are closer to the majors. This better reflects how these players are valued now by front offices and scouting departments, and gives me a chance to deliver more information on prospects whose names or scouting reports might be new to you.

• I use the 20-80 grading scale in these comments to avoid saying "average" and "above average" thousands of times across the 100 player comments. On that scale, a grade of 50 equals major league average, 55 is above average, 60 is plus, 45 is fringy or below average and so on. Giancarlo Stanton has 80 raw power. David Ortiz has 20 speed. Carlos Gomez is an 80 defender. An average fastball for a right-hander is 90-92 mph, with 1-2 mph off for a lefty.

Jan. update: Top 100 index Insider | Nos. 1-50 Insider | Nos. 51-100 Insider | By team Insider | By position Insider

lastname 1. Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs It's not like Bryant has done anything to defy my contention that he's baseball's best prospect, showing power and a good approach in spring training. He needs some work on his defense, but I don't think that alone is reason to send him down for a few weeks. He remains my pick for NL Rookie of the Year. lastname 2. Byron Buxton, CF, Minnesota Twins Buxton had a brief stint with the Twins in major league camp, but more importantly, he's healthy. He missed so much time last year that 2015 will amount to just his second full pro season. He needs the reps, especially at the plate, as the Twins don't want to see a repeat of the Aaron Hicks debacle, where he might have come up too soon and has never recovered from his inability to adjust to major league pitching. lastname 3. Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros Correa got significant playing time with the major league team this month, which I take as a sign he'll be en route to Houston sooner rather than later.
Lake Mary (Florida) High School shortstop Brendan Rodgers was the biggest star on the showcase circuit last summer, playing outstanding defense while showing a strong hit tool against the best prep arms in the country. I'd heard that Rodgers appeared to be pressing early this spring, but on Wednesday night he looked every bit like the best prep position player in this draft class. Rodgers has a simple right-handed swing that produces hard contact, both line-drive and power, thanks to strong hands and moderate hip rotation, and he projects to be a plus hitter with at least average home-run power down the road. In the field he has everything you'd want to see in a shortstop except speed, with soft hands, great footwork, and a 65 or 70 arm. He's a below-average runner, which is often used as a proxy for a shortstop's potential range, but I have never seen him unable to get to a ball that an above-average major league defender would field. The two main criticisms of Rodgers are that lack of foot speed, which I don't believe is strictly necessary for someone to be a good defensive shortstop -- Troy Tulowitzki seems have to done all right for himself -- and that Rodgers will turn 19 shortly after the draft, making him one of the oldest prep prospects in the class. The former issue doesn't bother me much, and the latter one would matter more if this class were otherwise flush with quality high school bats. Rodgers is clearly the cream of that crop, and I think a Tulowitzki Lite projection is reasonable, which makes him the top prospect in the draft right now. • Olympia (Orlando) High School lefty Juan Hillman, former teammate of Twins prospect Nick Gordon, threw a five-inning stint in the rain on Thursday morning and showed why he's one of my favorite arms in the class despite the lack of plus velocity. Hillman was 87-92 mph with some life on the pitch, but he hides the ball so well in his delivery that hitters seemed to start their swings after the ball had hit the glove -- I counted seven over three innings once I started keeping track. His curveball was slow at 73-75 mph but has a late downward break, and while he worked mostly with the fastball, he was willing to drop the curveball in to lefties as a change of pace. He threw one changeup or split-change at 81 mph with a hard tumble. Hillman's delivery is very easy and simple, with little effort in his arm action, and that deception is outstanding. Hitters just don't see the ball coming out of his hand, and as he fills out -- there's some projection here to end up in the 90-94 mph range -- his fastball should remain effective even as he's facing better hitters. Pitchers like Hillman don't often go in the first round due to the lack of present stuff, but I'd be comfortable taking him in the No. 20 to No. 40 range.

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Masahiro TanakaKathy Willens/AP PhotoMasahiro Tanaka pitched 4 2/3 innings against the Mets, striking out seven and walking one.
Masahiro Tanaka's health -- specifically that of his right ulnar collateral ligament -- is probably the most significant single factor that will affect the New York Yankees' chances of reaching the postseason this year. The partial tear that ended his 2014 season didn't require surgery and he chose to rehab it rather than miss an entire season after an operation. On Wednesday, he started at home against the New York Mets and looked good but not as good as he appeared early last season, displaying reduced stuff across the board. Tanaka went 4 2/3 innings against the Mets, leaving after he allowed a double, and sat at 89-92 mph all day with good command and a little life on his fastball. His splitter ranged from above-average to plus, mostly between 84 and 87 mph, with some at the lower end of the range showing heavy “bottom” but others staying up too long and becoming closer to below-average fastballs.

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UC Santa Barbara right-hander Dillon Tate was originally slated to start the 2015 season as the Gauchos' closer, a decision that head coach Andrew Checketts quickly reversed in the face of industrywide criticism thanks to a well-timed injury to one of their projected starters. Tate has quickly emerged as one of the top prospects in this year's draft class, something that never would have happened had he been mired in the bullpen, like how the University of Illinois has buried lefty Tyler Jay. Tate has 41 strikeouts through 36 innings (five starts), showing two plus pitches at times but needing work on his delivery and command. Tate has reached 98 mph this spring, but on Friday at home against Texas-Arlington he was 91-96, sitting primarily 94-95 early and drifting down to 90-93 by the last few innings of his start.

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BryantAP Photo/Lenny IgnelziIt's hard to knock the Cubs for delaying Kris Bryant's arrival, which is why the rules are a problem.
The problem isn't actually a problem. A situation that has Scott Boras lashing out at the Cubs for delaying Kris Bryant's arrival in Chicago and has Bryant subsequently defending his agent (in mature fashion) is an inevitable consequence of a collectively bargained rule. The rule states that a player with six years of major league service -- 6.000 years, where the three digits after the dot represent a number of days rather than a fractional amount -- gets to be a free agent, whereas a player with 5.171 years/days of service does not and must wait another year. The latter player will end up going through the arbitration process a fourth time, at which point his agents may compare his performance and salary to those of free agents and thus may file and argue for a market-level salary. It works in theory better than it works in practice, as the process typically requires looking farther back in time than the players would like, therefore failing to account for the significant rate of inflation of free-agent salaries. The problem, thus, is

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Cubs' Baez still lacks an approach 

March, 18, 2015
Mar 18
9:50
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Notes from the Royals-Cubs tilt Tuesday at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona, where the Cubs tried their best to give the game away in the ninth inning but still squeaked out a 4-3 victory:
[+] EnlargeJavier Baez
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJavier Baez is still up there hoping to run into a mistake.
• Top Cubs prospects Kris Bryant (sore shoulder) and Jorge Soler didn't play, so the biggest name on the field to start the game was Javier Baez, whose approach was ... exactly what it was at the end of last season. To pick just one example, his at bat against Royals lefty Brandon Finnegan went as scripted: He swung way out in front of an 0-0 changeup, then got the same pitch in the same location and swung way out in front of it again, then at least got the count to 2-2 before weakly tapping to second base on yet another changeup away. Earlier in the game, he pulled a ball foul but for home run distance, and everyone in the stadium knew he'd get an off-speed pitch away after that -- everyone but Baez, who swung and missed. Baez also later ended up getting caught stealing at third base on a 3-0 count, although that could have been called from the bench. It's the lack of any adjustment in the approach that bothers me; pitchers can get him out in predictable fashion, and he shows no recognition of the book that's out on him. • Kyle Schwarber came in to catch the last two innings, and if you saw any of the game, you got a glimpse of why most non-Cubs evaluators and execs doubt he'll remain a catcher. He's fine when the ball is in the zone or up above it, but anything down in or toward the dirt gives him a lot of trouble, and he's so strong and thick that it's hard for him to move enough to cover it. The bat might turn out to be special -- he had one at-bat on Tuesday, against Finnegan, a very tough matchup for any young left-handed hitter -- but the glove is so far away that the odds are very high that he ends up in left field. • Finnegan was 91-94 mph and showed a plus changeup at 85-87 with great arm speed and subtle fade, a real string puller that he used repeatedly against right-handed hitters. His slider was very inconsistent, and he clearly didn't have feel for it, with several either backing up on him or just hanging. He was very good in his first inning of work, less so in his second, losing command and just generally seeming unsteady. Finnegan's arm swing is long, and it's late relative to his landing point, so his arm and hand (the hand being attached to the arm in most cases) have a long way to travel after his front foot has hit the ground, meaning the arm is doing more work than is ideal. There is no perfect delivery, but I'm just weighing probabilities here, and the odds are that this delivery pushes him to the bullpen rather than allowing him to become a 180-inning starter. He was very effective in spurts as a starter at TCU but had shoulder soreness in his junior year, missing a few starts (never needing surgery or even a long rehab), then was a huge part of that great Royals bullpen down the stretch last year. I do not blame Kansas City for wanting to develop Finnegan as a starter, as he can show you three pitches and has the intelligence you want in a starter, but there's enough of a chance that he has to be a reliever that I also wouldn't think ill of a decision to keep him in the major league bullpen right now. • Royals starter Danny Duffy threw four innings, and aside from a brief sequence in the third where he lost his command, he looked ready for the season to start. Duffy was up to 95, had his breaking ball working and was mostly filling up the zone outside of that one stretch where he ended up walking in the only run he gave up on the day. He was so good last year that I couldn't really call him a breakout candidate for 2015 (here are my 2015 breakout candidates), but I do think there's more to come from him now that he's fully healthy again, especially in terms of missing bats, as he has two pitches that should do so.

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Breakout player picks for 2015 

March, 17, 2015
Mar 17
9:15
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Jacob Turner and Nick CastellanosGetty ImagesA Cubs starter and Detroit's third baseman -- both 23 -- are among Law's breakout picks.
Every March, I post a list of players who I think are primed for significant upticks in their performances in the coming season. These are players who've already lost their rookie status but either haven't performed at all in the majors or perhaps just haven't lived up to expectations. Last year's list had several players who did indeed break out, including Anthony Rendon, Drew Smyly, Tyler Skaggs (prior to his injury) and Adam Eaton, as well as Wily Peralta, whose peripherals didn't improve quite enough to call it a “breakout” but who at least had a better year. This year's list has

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Rodon start causes consternation 

March, 16, 2015
Mar 16
9:29
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Carlos RodonRon Vesely/MLB Photos/Getty Images) Carlos Rodon was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft.
Carlos Rodon started for the Chicago White Sox and showed arm strength but didn't have much command on Monday, especially not in the first inning. Rodon hit 91-95 mph, sitting mostly 92-93, with some life, but his slider at 85-87 was inconsistent in every aspect -- he hung a few, had a couple back up on him, and couldn't locate it at all, getting just two swings-and-misses on it over three innings. Rodon's delivery isn't conducive to great command, with a short stride and hard finish along with some head violence, but his pure stuff has always been so good that he could get away with failing to locate perfectly. Monday's outing had to give the White Sox some consternation about how effective he can be with his delivery as it stands right now

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Two Arizona Wildcats raising draft stock 

March, 16, 2015
Mar 16
12:20
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Kevin NewmanCourtesy Arizona AthleticsKevin Newman currently leads the Wildcats with a .452 batting average through 22 games.
University of Arizona shortstop Kevin Newman led the Cape Cod League in batting average last summer … and also did so the summer before that, the first time in league history that had happened. While that alone doesn't guarantee a high draft slot, the fact that Newman also can play in the middle of the field and projects to stay there made him a potential first-rounder coming into this spring. With his outstanding play so far and a draft that looks weaker than it did a month ago, I think he has a chance to go among the top 15 picks

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Taijuan WalkerTroy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsTaijuan Walker, still just 22 years old, has looked sharp this spring for the Mariners.
Taijuan Walker is getting quite a bit of buzz for his performances so far this spring (just three baserunners in eight scoreless innings) in Arizona, and for an electric fastball that's sitting in the mid-90s. He has improved from where he was last fall, both in delivery and stuff, but he's not back to the promise he showed as a top-10 prospect in the game a few years ago.

Walker threw three shutout innings Saturday against the punchless Arizona Diamondbacks, whose split-squad lineup might not have even been an average Triple-A offense. His fastball was sitting 94-96 without much life, but with more downhill plane than he showed last September or October.

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San Clemente HS lefty Kolby Allard is the best prep pitcher in this year's draft class, boasting the strongest combination of stuff, delivery, body and present ability of anyone in the group. He threw in the semifinal game of the annual Loara Tournament in Anaheim on Thursday night in front of a number of scouts, a crowd that included Arizona assistant GM De Jon Watson and at least five scouting directors or VPs. (I didn't spot anyone from Houston, which picks both second and fifth in this year's draft, at the game, but know the Astros were out in force at shortstop Brendan Rodgers' game in Florida that night.)

Allard wasn't at his best, struggling to locate his fastball most of the night, walking four hitters in four innings. He was 89-93 mph with some deception on the fastball, getting at least six swings and misses on the pitch by my count, and his curveball at 74-77 is one of the best in the draft from any pitcher, high school or college. The breaking ball has very tight rotation with true two-plane break, and he had more command of it on Thursday than he did of the fastball, using the pitch to get ahead or to try to get a swing and miss from right-handed hitters by throwing it at their back feet. He did flash a pair of changeups in the third inning, 82-83 with hard tumbling action.

Allard doesn't have much effort to his delivery, with a loose, quick arm and great extension out front that helps the fastball play up while getting that bite on his curveball. He hasn't had an outing this erratic all spring, but it wasn't the kind of outing I was hoping to see -- it was an opponent he should have just overpowered with stuff, but to their credit they waited him out and ended up getting into a number of hitters' counts against him. I still see him as a top 10 pick, probably a top-five talent, assuming this outing was a blip and not a sign that throwing strikes will be an issue going forward.

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Danny SalazarUSA TODAY SportsDanny Salazar has ace-type stuff, but Keith Law didn't like what he saw from him Wednesday.
I got up before the crack of dawn Wednesday to fly to Arizona in time to get to an afternoon game, and ended up watching the Oakland Athletics host the Cleveland Indians in Mesa to try to catch a handful of young pitchers of note. Oakland won the game 3-2, and here's what I saw:

• Cleveland right-hander Danny Salazar failed to complete two innings Tuesday, looking like his (good) 2013 self in the first inning and then like his (bad) 2014 self in the second, an outing that can't give the front office a ton of confidence about his development. Salazar has No. 1 starter stuff, sitting 93-97 mph with a hard splitter at 84-86 mph and slider at the same velocities. He breezed through the first inning, although it was power over command, but when Billy Butler smoked a hanger over the left field wall in the second, Salazar began to come apart at the seams, rushing through his delivery and getting more cross-body, losing what little command he had in the process.

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Richie MartinCliff Welch/Icon SportswireUniversity of Florida's Richie Martin is solid defensively, but it appears his swing needs some work.
Florida shortstop Richie Martin raked in the Cape Cod league last summer, hitting .364/.432/.469 for Bourne, finishing second in the league in average, fifth in OBP and eighth in slugging. He's a true shortstop and is very likely to stay at the position in the long run, but despite that performance last summer in the nation's best wood-bat collegiate league, I think there are real questions about his hit tool in the long term.

Martin's swing is very short and direct, with no load, just a slight trigger before he moves his hands forward, making a lot of contact without much loft. He does have some hip rotation to drive the ball with his lower half, but lacking any sort of load cuts off the potentially average or fringe-average power he might have. On Tuesday night at Central Florida, he looked extremely uncomfortable against anything thrown on the inner third or inside, both in approach and in his body language, flinching even at some pitches thrown for inside strikes.

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Kyler MurrayCal Sport Media via AP ImagesKyler Murray signed to play football at Texas A&M last month but could be lured to the pro diamond.
Shortstop Kyler Murray of Allen (Texas) High School is the nephew of former Giants outfielder Calvin Murray, the son of former Texas A&M quarterback Kevin Murray and the top dual-threat quarterback prospect in this year's recruiting class. He committed to the Aggies earlier this winter, but before he gets to College Station, he is going to get some serious offers from Major League Baseball teams looking to capitalize on his tremendous athletic ability on the diamond.

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