Greetings, fellow prospectors. It’s back. And I know you’ve missed it.

The minor league season is officially under way, and there are some teams who are considered more “stacked” in terms of higher ceiling prospects than others. Here is my personal top 10 list.

1)    Lancaster Jet Hawks (Astros, High-A) – Where else are you going to find two consecutive #1 draft picks on the same team? If that weren’t enough, there are a plethora of other pitchers, and especially position prospects, to keep an eye on. Their park is considered to be one of the most hitter-friendly in the entire minors, which could be a double-edged sword, but these arms could move quickly up the ladder, so go and see them sooner than later.

Pitchers – Mark Appel, Josh Hader, Lance McCullers, Kyle Smith, Vince Velasquez

Hitters – Carlos Correa, Rio Ruiz, Teoscar Hernandez, Danry Vasquez

2)    Oklahoma City Red Hawks (Astros, AAA) – If the above Astros prospects weren’t enough for you, we have another sampling of high-end guys awaiting their call to Houston.

Pitchers – Mike Foltynewicz, Nick Tropeano

Hitters – Max Stassi, Jon Singleton, Domingo Santana, George Springer

3)    Tennessee Smokies (Cubs, AA) – Their overall system is stacked, five guys in particular, who are considered among the best in the minors. And they’re all in one place.

Pitchers – Corey Black, C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson (injured)

Hitters – Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler

4)    Wilmington Blue Rocks (Royals, High-A) – It isn’t often so many of their prospects can be found on one team, and as an added bonus, two of them were just drafted last year.

Pitchers – Miguel Almonte, Christian Binford, Sean Manaea

Hitters – Hunter Dozier, Raul A. Mondesi, Bubba Starling

5)     Iowa Cubs (Cubs, AAA) – Like the Astros’ system, the Cubs have potential in abundance, headlined here by Baseball America’s #5 overall minor league prospect.

Pitchers – Kyle Hendricks

Hitters – Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Christian Villanueva

6)    Pawtucket Red Sox (Red Sox, AAA) – Even without Jackie Bradley, who was the recipient of a last minute recall to Fenway, there are several names who could very well follow him this year, highlighted by these guys.

Pitchers – Matt Barnes, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo

Hitters – Garin Cecchini, Bryce Brentz, Christian Vazquez

7)    Portland Sea Dogs (Red Sox, AA) – Here is yet another farm system with two teams’ worth of emphatic potential.

Pitchers – Henry Owens

Hitters – Blake Swihart, Mookie Betts, Deven Marrero

8)    Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Rangers, High-A) – The majority of last year’s “dream lineup” while they were stationed in Hickory have moved up a level this year.

Pitchers – Alex Gonzalez

Hitters – Jorge Alfaro, Chris Bostick, Joey Gallo, Nick Williams

9)    San Antonio Missions (Padres, AA) – Featuring arguably the minors’ top catching prospect and an arm who broke out in a big way last year.

Pitchers – Jesse Hahn, Matt Wisler

Hitters – Austin Hedges, Jace Peterson, Cory Spangenberg, Travis Jankowski, Rymer Liriano

10)West Virginia Power (Pirates, Low-A) – These guys may still be a ways off, but when two of last year’s top hitting first rounders are assigned to the same team, it’s just too enticing to ignore.

Pitchers – Luis Heredia

Hitters – Reese McGuire, JaCoby Jones, Austin Meadows (injured), Harold Ramirez

Others who just missed – Ft. Myers Miracle, Las Vegas 51’s, Lansing Lugnuts, Durham Bulls.

In the AL West there are some prospects that are on the tip of everyone’s tongue—Odor, Correa, Walker, Russell, etc.  There are some players with elite skill sets, while not known by most, still have a good shot at making an impact at the big league level.

23 year-old Reid Scoggins was drafted by the Angels in the 15th round of the 2012 draft.  He has been clocked as high as 101 in college and generally throws in the mid to high 90s.  He has struck out a 117 batters in a little over 85 professional innings.  He has some command issues and is still developing his secondary pitches.  A potential relief ace with a high ceiling, we could see Scoggins in the big league bullpen by 2015.

Astros catcher Tyler Heineman is someone I’ve been high on for some time, since watching him play for the NY-Penn League’s Tri-City Valley Cats.  A switch hitter with power, the 22 year-old is also a good catch and throw guy, who profiles long-term behind the dish.  The 2012 eighth round pick has the potential to not just be an everyday big league catcher, but his tools have him profile as a potential star at the position.

The Rangers Akeem Bostick is a very athletic 6’4”, 180 pound right hander.  A second rounder in 2013, Bostick pitched well in Arizona for the Rangers.  He throws a mid-90s fastball and has good curveball and change-up that have real potential to develop.  At only 18 years old, as he develops, I expect most prospectors will know who he is in a few years.

An 8 year minor league veteran, A’s right hander Arnold Leon, in his age 25 year, is in a make or break season.  Never a top prospect, Leon has been solid in each stop he’s had along the way.  He doesn’t have the potential to be a superstar, but there is probably a half-dozen teams he could start for right now.  He didn’t crack the A’s rotation or bullpen out of Spring Training, but I think that says more for the A’s staff and depth than anything else.  Injuries occur, that’s a part of the game.  Sometimes pitchers don’t succeed.  At some point this season, I think Leon will have his chance with the big club because of this.

The focus of the young pitching in Seattle, for good or bad, is Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen.  There is another name in the M’s system who was lights out at AA Jackson last season that people should be talking about- reliever Carson Smith.  With an unorthodox delivery, Smith doesn’t look like your star pitcher in the making.  But looks can be deceiving.  He has a wicked sinker and slider, combined with his fastball, makes Smith a near major league ready talent.  With the M’s looking to contend this year, if their big league pen struggles in April, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Smith in the bullpen by the end of May.  He has a chance to be a legit- big league closer.

The NL West is filled with top name prospects who have recently debuted and are expected to debut, to much fan-fare, this season.  From Archie Bradley to Yasiel Puig, the names of the best NL West prospects are on the tip of the tongue of most prospectors.  Here are some that you may not be aware of, that could end up making an impact on big league rosters in the not too distant future.

21-year-old toolsie outfielder Noel Cuevas was drafted in the 21st round by the LA Dodgers in 2010.  Cuevas excelled at High-A Rancho Cucamonga in 2013, putting together perhaps his finest all-around minor league campaign in full season ball.  In addition to his 66 stolen bases, Cuevas put up a .284/.341/.454 line.  There are two questions surrounding Cuevas coming into 2014.  The biggest question is how he will handle Double-A? Will there be any regression and how much? Will he be able to figure things out and continue to build on his impressive 2013 season?  The second question concerns the Dodgers, with their plethora of talented outfielders, four at the big-league level, three of which are signed to long-term deals, and Joc Pederson waiting in the wings at AAA, is there a place in LA for Cuevas to play?

21-year-old backstop Will Swanner put together an impressive season, all things considered, for High-A Modesto.  A 15th round pick in 2010 out of high school in Carlsbad Ca., Swanner has slowly worked his way up the ranks in the Rockies system over the last four seasons.  The only thing that keeps me from calling 2013 a break-out campaign for Swanner is his horrible April and July months.  A streaky hitter, Swanner can hit for power and average, but strikes out a lot.  His bat it typical for Coors field and I could see him replacing Wilin Rosario behind the dish (with Rosario moving over to first), or vice-versa, in a few years and the Rox are lacking a true first base prospect.  Swanner should begin the season at Double-A, and if he continues to perform and September call-up in 2015 seems likely.

The Giants shelled out big bucks with preemptive strikes to keep Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum this off-season, sacrificing their spending in other areas, one of which, is the bullpen.  That is why Josh Osich is so intriguing to me.  Through his first two pro-seasons, Osich has been on the fast track, spending half the year last year in Double-A Richmond.  With a stellar strike out rate and good walk totals, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Osich is a guy to keep an eye on this spring.  His live arm is something that the Giants could use in a middle relief role.  Osich has the stuff to eventually be an 8th or 9th inning guy, once he gets a few years under his belt.

20-year-old Mallex Smith of the Padres is probably one of the fastest prospects in all of baseball.  Not only is he fast, but he is a smart baserunner as well.  Smith exploded on to the scene in his second pro-season putting up a .367 OBP with 64 steals in 110 games at Class-A Fort Wayne.  Not quite Billy Hamilton territory, but who is?  A speedy centerfielder with range, Smith has shown the ability to get on base and use his speed as a game changer.  Smith will turn 21 this way and looks to kick off the season in Double-A.  If he continues to play like he is now, by the end of the season he should be at Triple-A and be on everyone’s radar.  Look for him to emerge at the top of San Diego’s line-up by 2016.

Rounding out the NL west is Arizona hurler Daniel Gibson.  A 7th rounder in last year’s draft, Gibson was originally drafted by the Brewers in 2010 but chose to play for the University of Florida Gainesville instead.  Especially tough against lefty’s Gibson dominated A-ball in 2013.  With a fastball averaging 92 mph, Gibson profiles as a left-handed specialist at the big league level- not flashy, but every team needs a couple and it gets the job done.  There is a feeling among experts that Gibson may be one of the first players from the 2013 draft class to reach the big leagues, possibly as early as 2014.

The American League East has been a power house over the last decade plus, with the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays, all in the mix for Post Season berths. The Orioles, whose core of Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Manny Machado, were all built through the farm system, as were the Rays core of Longoria, Price and Moore. The Yankees have taken the opposite approach and are largely built around hired guns, whereas the Red Sox have employed a combination. The Jays right now, are in a state of flux, not knowing which way they are going, having traded away some of their best prospects in recent years in an attempt to win now.

One of the diamonds in the rough in the Jays system is first baseman L.B. Dantzler. Drafted in the 14th round of the 2013 draft, the 22-year-old exceeded expectations last year, posting a .302/.385/.504 slash line in 269 plate appearances split between Rookie League and Low-A. A pull hitter, Dantzler’s power rates a 60+ on the 20/80 scale. Dantzler is a converted third baseman and can field the position well. His compact frame gives him good lateral movement. Despite the fact that he strikes out a lot, he still gets on base at a good clip and can hit for average and power. 2014 is an interesting season for Dantzler. If he replicates what he did last year at High-A and Double-A, he will immediately become a player everyone will be watching in the Jays’ system.

With Derek Jeter announcing his retirement effective the end of 2014, one of the things that many fans are left wondering, is who the Yankees have coming up through the system to replace him. The Yankees do not have a top- 10 shortstop prospect, so it is likely, at least in the short term, that the Yankees will look outside the system to fill the hole next off-season. Other than Jeter, every starting position this year will be filled by someone who was developed outside the system (with the possible exception of Brett Gardner if he wins a starting job). This is a far cry from the formula that won them four of five World Series titles in the late 90s. At shortstop, 2013 fourth round draft pick Tyler Wade is a name to keep an eye on. At only 18 years of age, Wade is at least three years away from sniffing the big leagues. He hit well in rookie ball and showed good speed, but struggled a little bit in a brief stint at Low-A Staten Island. Wade profiles well as a top of the line-up hitter, with speed, and is a sleeper to keep an eye on, especially playing in New York.

Red Sox hurler Simon Mercedes has what one scout describes as “a real arm”. The 22-year-old Dominican hurler signed with the Sox in 2012 and pitched in one game. He spend the entire 2013 campaign throwing mostly in relief for low-A Lowell. He excelled against NY-Penn League hitters striking out nearly a batter an inning. A two pitch pitcher, with a plus fastball that hovers in the mid-90s, and plus curveball, the 6’4” 220 pounder has the tools needed to succeed in the big league bullpen. Look for him to begin at High-A in 2014 with a chance to reach Triple-A by the end of the season. I project Mercedes to be an impact arm in the back of the Sox bullpen and could be ready to see big league competition by late 2015.

Acquired by the Rays in the Wil Myers- James Shields trade, very little was known about Leonard in prospecting circles at the time. After the trade, Rays fans knew more than most. Drafted out of high school in 2011 by the Royals, Leonard struggled in his first season in the Rays franchise last year. He runs well for a big guy, and fields first base well. He has a nice fluid swing and can hammer fastballs. The big question is how he handles breaking pitches and that is what he struggled with in 2013. At only 21 years old, he still has a year or two to work out those kinks. If he can learn to at least handle breaking pitches (maybe not drive them but at least handle them), he could profile as a solid, second division, big league regular or right handed part of a platoon.

The Orioles took Stephen Tarpley in the third round of the 2013 draft out of Scottsdale Community College. Previously drafted out of high-school in the 11th round by the Indians, Tarpley chose college over the Tribe. Tarpley stands 6’1” and is a lean 180 pounds and throws three plus pitches with good command- a fastball, slider and change-up. As he works his way up the system over the next few years and continues to refine his pitchers, he will open more and more eyes. He has the ability to strike out a batter and inning and has good enough control to not walk a lot of guys. I think Tarpley will end up earning a call to the big leagues sometime in 2016, and should be a solid middle of the rotation pitcher for the Orioles for some time.

What we have here are prospects that fall outside of most prognosticators Top Ten lists.  There will be names on this list that many prospectors won’t know much about.  The goal here is to share a little bit of information on diamonds in the rough.  Over the next six weeks I will cover a division a week, beginning with the NL East.  You won’t find Noah Syndergaard, Lucas Sims or Brian Goodwin on this list of NL East prospects, instead we kick this list off with Dilson Herrera.

The Mets acquired Herrera, along with Vic Black, from the Pirates last August, in exchange for veterans Marlon Byrd and John Buck.  Herrera will turn 20 during Spring Training, and should see Double-A Binghamton before the year is out.  Like all prospects who are not considered elite, he does have some holes in his game, most notably his strikeout rate, which needs work.  But age 20, this young man’s positives outweigh the negatives.  A middle infielder, he has the potential to be an above average major league second baseman.  He has a very good glove, and his arm strength is the only thing that keeps him from projecting at shortstop.  He has the ability to hit for power, steal some bases, and get on base at a reasonable clip.  His strike out totals (which averaged one per game last year) need to be reduced, or at the very least, not increase as Herrera climbs the ladder.  If he can do that, expect him to join the big club in 2016.

Kyle Jensen of the Marlins has hit at every level, but at age 25, the idea of him being a prospect is closing.  The 2014 season is a make or break for Jensen.  Low batting average and high strike out totals are a concern as those numbers went in the wrong direction each step up the ladder he took.  He has legitimate power, and is in an outfielder by trade who can also play first base.  If he can cut down on his strikeouts just a little bit, and put some of those into balls in play, he could hit .250 at the big league level.  A .250/.330/.480 slash should be good enough to make him a big league regular in Miami.  With as depleted as the Marlins roster is and with as much power as he has, I’m surprised he didn’t get a look from the big club in 2013.  Look for him to compete for the starting first base job this spring.

There were cries of nepotism when the Braves drafted Kyle Wren, son of GM Frank Wren, with their Eighth round pick in 2013.  But it wasn’t the first time Wren had been drafted, having been selected by the Reds in the 30th round of the previous year’s draft.  Wren was quick to dispel that notion putting up a .335/.391/.472 slash line at in Rookie ball, Class A, and High A last year.  Blessed with great speed, Wren is also a smart base runner.  Couple that with the ability to get on base, and Wren is Atlanta’s lead-off hitter of the future.   The way he blazed through A ball last year, I expect him to begin 2014 with Double-A Mississippi, and if he excels as he did in 2013 could make Triple-A before the season’s end.  Wren is also a solid defensive outfielder with a good arm that could play either corner for the Braves.  I expect big things from Wren as there are not many holes in his game.  He could be ready for the big club as early as mid-2015.

The most dangerous hitter in the lineup during his time at Perdue, Cameron Perkins power seems to have disappeared in pro- ball.  He still slugs at a decent clip thanks to a lot of doubles and has been a near .300 hitter with a .346 OBP in his two pro seasons in the Phillies system.  He can play both corners on the infield and outfield, but projects best as a corner outfielder.  He has a good but not great arm and could end up in left field for the big club.  His ability to hit for average with a lot of doubles, coupled with his ability to play multiple positions adequately on the diamond, could mean a long career as a super utility guy.  At 23 years-old, Perkins should see Double- A ball for the first time this year, and it is why we should keep an eye on him.  If he continues to play the way he has without any regression, and I think he will, we could see him up with the big club in 2016.

The Washington Nationals have a young Dominican born twenty year-old catcher in their system that reminds me of a young Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate.  A stellar defender, Pedro Servino can catch and throw with the best of them.  He is a hard worker who after only two short minor league seasons, and season in the Sally League, is starting to develop a reputation in baseball circles as a hard worker, and is developing his command of the English language at a rapid pace.  The one thing he needs to continue to work on is his bat.  He showed flashes of promise in 2013 and his production with the stick has increased dramatically each of the last two seasons- all he has to do now, is start to show a little bit of pop.  I expect Servino to play Double-A ball in 2014 and should be ready to crack the big league line-up in 2016, which will be his age 22 season.  Servino has a chance to be a very good every day major league catcher for a long time.

What we have here are prospects that fall outside of most prognosticators Top Ten lists.  There will be names on this list that many prospectors won’t know much about.  The goal here is to share a little bit of information on diamonds in the rough.  Over the next six weeks I will cover a division a week, beginning with the NL East.  You won’t find Noah Syndergaard, Lucas Sims or Brian Goodwin on this list of NL East prospects, instead we kick this list off with Dilson Herrera.

The Mets acquired Herrera, along with Vic Black, from the Pirates last August, in exchange for veterans Marlon Byrd and John Buck.  Herrera will turn 20 during Spring Training, and should see Double-A Binghamton before the year is out.  Like all prospects who are not considered elite, he does have some holes in his game, most notably his strikeout rate, which needs work.  But age 20, this young man’s positives outweigh the negatives.  A middle infielder, he has the potential to be an above average major league second baseman.  He has a very good glove, and his arm strength is the only thing that keeps him from projecting at shortstop.  He has the ability to hit for power, steal some bases, and get on base at a reasonable clip.  His strike out totals (which averaged one per game last year) need to be reduced, or at the very least, not increase as Herrera climbs the ladder.  If he can do that, expect him to join the big club in 2016.

Kyle Jensen of the Marlins has hit at every level, but at age 25, the idea of him being a prospect is closing.  The 2014 season is a make or break for Jensen.  Low batting average and high strike out totals are a concern as those numbers went in the wrong direction each step up the ladder he took.  He has legitimate power, and is in an outfielder by trade who can also play first base.  If he can cut down on his strikeouts just a little bit, and put some of those into balls in play, he could hit .250 at the big league level.  A .250/.330/.480 slash should be good enough to make him a big league regular in Miami.  With as depleted as the Marlins roster is and with as much power as he has, I’m surprised he didn’t get a look from the big club in 2013.  Look for him to compete for the starting first base job this spring.

There were cries of nepotism when the Braves drafted Kyle Wren, son of GM Frank Wren, with their Eighth round pick in 2013.  But it wasn’t the first time Wren had been drafted, having been selected by the Reds in the 30th round of the previous year’s draft.  Wren was quick to dispel that notion putting up a .335/.391/.472 slash line at in Rookie ball, Class A, and High A last year.  Blessed with great speed, Wren is also a smart base runner.  Couple that with the ability to get on base, and Wren is Atlanta’s lead-off hitter of the future.   The way he blazed through A ball last year, I expect him to begin 2014 with Double-A Mississippi, and if he excels as he did in 2013 could make Triple-A before the season’s end.  Wren is also a solid defensive outfielder with a good arm that could play either corner for the Braves.  I expect big things from Wren as there are not many holes in his game.  He could be ready for the big club as early as mid-2015.

The most dangerous hitter in the lineup during his time at Perdue, Cameron Perkins power seems to have disappeared in pro- ball.  He still slugs at a decent clip thanks to a lot of doubles and has been a near .300 hitter with a .346 OBP in his two pro seasons in the Phillies system.  He can play both corners on the infield and outfield, but projects best as a corner outfielder.  He has a good but not great arm and could end up in left field for the big club.  His ability to hit for average with a lot of doubles, coupled with his ability to play multiple positions adequately on the diamond, could mean a long career as a super utility guy.  At 23 years-old, Perkins should see Double- A ball for the first time this year, and it is why we should keep an eye on him.  If he continues to play the way he has without any regression, and I think he will, we could see him up with the big club in 2016.

The Washington Nationals have a young Dominican born twenty year-old catcher in their system that reminds me of a young Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate.  A stellar defender, Pedro Servino can catch and throw with the best of them.  He is a hard worker who after only two short minor league seasons, and season in the Sally League, is starting to develop a reputation in baseball circles as a hard worker, and is developing his command of the English language at a rapid pace.  The one thing he needs to continue to work on is his bat.  He showed flashes of promise in 2013 and his production with the stick has increased dramatically each of the last two seasons- all he has to do now, is start to show a little bit of pop.  I expect Servino to play Double-A ball in 2014 and should be ready to crack the big league line-up in 2016, which will be his age 22 season.  Servino has a chance to be a very good every day major league catcher for a long time.

Keith Law just released his top MLB Farm Systems on ESPN.com. For those of you that don’t have an insider account and are chomping at the bit to get a look, here are the rankings:

 

1. Houston Astros

2. Minnesota Twins

3. Pittsburgh Pirates

4. Chicago Cubs

5. Boston Red Sox

6. New York Mets

7. Kansas City Royals

8. Colorado Rockies

9. San Diego Padres

10. Baltimore Orioles

11. Los Angeles Dodgers

12. St. Louis Cardinals

13. Texas Rangers

14. Philadelphia Phillies

15. Arizona Diamondbacks

16. Cincinnati Reds

17. Cleveland Indians

18. Washington Nationals

19. Miami Marlins

20. New York Yankees

21. Seattle Mariners

22. Atlanta Braves

23. Tampa Bay Rays

24. Toronto Blue Jays

25. San Francisco Giants

26. Oakland Athletics

27. Chicago White Sox

28. Detroit Tigers

29. Los Angeles Angels

30. Milwaukee Brewers

 

Biggest Risers: New York Mets, Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies

Biggest Fallers: Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels

 

These rankings are never an exact science, always much to debate on this topic.