This past Thursday, we started off our list with the bottom 20 players. We have worked our way through the prospects in increments of 20. Friday, we listed prospects 61-80, Saturday we gave you prospects 41-60 and prospects 21-40 were released on Sunday.
The top 20 minor leaguers are listed below, highlighting the next wave of talent that will be making its way to the major leagues soon. Players on this list have very high ceilings and are generally close to earning big league playing time very soon. None of the pitchers project as less than a No. 2 starter, and all of the batters profile as middle-of-the-lineup types. The players in this portion of the list should be playing in All-Star Games and making major contributions to their major league teams soon.
20. Bubba Starling, outfielder, Kansas City Royals
If you like upside, Starling is the prospect for you. An incredibly athletic talent who the Royals signed away from a football scholarship at Nebraska, Starling is a potential five-tool centerfielder. He's as raw as he is athletic, though, and is the type of player who is likely to need at least three full seasons in the minors. This is an aggressive ranking for him, but if everything breaks right, he could be a Jim Edmonds-like player.
19. Travis d'Arnaud, catcher, Toronto Blue Jays
A major part of the Roy Halladay trade, d'Arnaud's production finally matched his talents in 2011, as the 22-year-old catcher hit .311 with 21 homers and a .374 on-base percentage in 114 games at Double-A. He still needs to improve his approach -– he struck out in over a fifth of his at-bats, while walking just seven percent of the time -– but the tools are there for d'Arnaud to become an All-Star. He should challenge J.P. Arencibia for regular catching duties in 2013.
18. Manny Banuelos, starting pitcher, New York Yankees
Banuelos held his own as a 20-year-old in both Double-A and Triple-A last season, which speaks volumes about his potential. He didn't dominate at either level, though, and his high walk rates suggest he needs more time in the upper minors to refine his command. Banuelos needs another 100-or-so innings at Triple-A before he's major league ready, but he could be in the Yankees' rotation by midseason.
17. Martin Perez, starting pitcher, Texas Rangers
Once upon a time, Perez would regularly invoke comparisons to fellow Venezuelan and left-hander Johan Santana, but his stock has fallen slightly in recent years. It took Perez over 200 innings to move past Double-A, but considering he's yet to see his 21st birthday, he still has an enormous amount of potential. If Perez improves his command, he's an ace in the making. If not, he could become a left-handed Ervin Santana. Either way, he'll be ready for the big leagues by July.
16. Nolan Arenado, third baseman, Colorado Rockies
Arenado had a breakout 2011 campaign, hitting 20 homers and 32 doubles with a .349 on-base percentage in 583 plate appearances at High-A Modesto. Arenado also walked nearly as often as he struck out, and he took major strides in the field as well (many now view him as an average defender at third). Modesto is a notoriously hitter-friendly environment, so Arenado will need to prove his performance was legitimate in Double-A this season. If he does, he could see the majors by season's end.
15. Jameson Taillon, starting pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates
The second overall pick from the 2010 draft, Taillon has everything scouts look for in a young pitcher -– a large frame that suggests durability, a mid-90s fastball and a firm grasp of the strike zone. Taillon struck out over a batter per inning in Low-A last season while posting a solid 2.1 walks per nine innings rate. Look for Taillon to throw 120-140 innings this year and battle with the man who precedes him in these rankings to be the Pirates' ace in 2014.
14. Gerrit Cole, starting pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates
Trevor Bauer's rotation mate at UCLA and the first overall pick in the 2011 draft, Cole has some of the highest upside of any pitcher in the minors. Cole's command and delivery both lack in consistency, but when he's firing on all cylinders, he can be unhittable. Scouts disagree on when Cole will reach the majors -– some think he could be up by August, others think he'll take a year longer -– but he should be a 200-plus strikeout pitcher once he arrives.
13. Wil Myers, outfielder, Kansas City Royals
Originally drafted as a catcher, the Royals transitioned Myers to the outfield with the hope that his bat would develop quickly. They may have been overly aggressive in sending him to Double-A last season, though, and the 21-year-old will likely repeat the level in 2012. That being said, Myers could see the majors by season's end, will hit for high averages and play good defense in right field immediately, and should hit for power as he ages.
12. Jacob Turner, starting pitcher, Detroit Tigers
Detroit loves to push their young starters aggressively, and that's certainly been the case with Turner, who reached the majors in his second professional season last year. He's the odds-on favorite to start the year as the Tigers' fifth starter, but with just 30 innings above Double-A, he would likely benefit from another half-season in the minors. Turner profiles as a durable innings-eating No. 2 starter in the Matt Cain mold and should be a major contributor this year.
11. Anthony Rendon, second/third baseman, Washington Nationals
Once favored to be the first overall pick in last year's draft, Rendon was injured for much of his junior campaign at Rice, and slid to sixth overall as a result. Nationals fans should be ecstatic, as they may have nabbed the draft's best prospect for the third straight year. Rendon is blocked at third base by Ryan Zimmerman, and some doubt whether he'll be able to transition smoothly to second base. No one doubts his bat, though, and he profiles as a slower Evan Longoria.
10. Julio Teheran, starting pitcher, Atlanta Braves
The cream of what is an impressive crop of Braves pitching prospects, Teheran pitched very well at Triple-A last season, and held his own during a brief stint in the majors as well. He could benefit from another half-season in the minors, but considering he just turned 21, he's still ahead of the curve. He may not pile up the strikeouts at first, but Teheran's fastball and curveball are top-of-the-rotation type pitches.
9. Shelby Miller, starting pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals
Miller had a dominating 2011 season, reaching Double-A and striking out over a batter an inning there in 86 2/3 innings. He still needs to refine his command -– his 3.43 walks per nine innings rate leaves something to be desired -– but he should see the majors before the 2012 season is over, and before he celebrates his 22nd birthday. Miller should begin his major league career in the middle of the rotation, but will headline it before long.
8. Manny Machado, shortstop, Baltimore Orioles
Some prefer Machado to the shortstop ranked a few slots above him, and there's no doubt he's among the most powerful middle infield prospects in baseball. The third overall pick in the 2010 draft, Machado reached High-A in his first full professional season in 2011, but likely needs a bit more time there, as his approach suffered. He may outgrow shortstop, but if he can stick there, his upside is as a perennial All-Star capable of playing in the middle of the field and lineup.
7. Devin Mesoraco, catcher, Cincinnati Reds
A first-round pick in the 2007 draft, Mesoraco had fallen off the prospect map after two lackluster seasons before bursting back onto the scene in 2010. After a terrific 2011 campaign that saw him post a .371 on-base percentage in Triple-A, he's now ready to assume full-time big league duty in Cincinnati. Mesoraco should outperform the average MLB catcher immediately, and in his prime could have an offensive profile similar to that of Brian McCann.
6. Jurickson Profar, shortstop, Texas Rangers
Machado may have more power, but with his superior speed, range and understanding of the strike zone, Profar is the best shortstop prospect in the minors. The 18-year-old walked more than he struck out in over 500 plate appearances in Single-A last season, and recorded 12 homers, 23 steals and a .390 on-base percentage to boot. Profar's at least two full minor league seasons away from the majors, but he has Jimmy Rollins-type upside.
5. Jesus Montero, designated hitter/catcher, Seattle Mariners
Recently traded for Michael Pineda, Montero can't catch, but his bat is so good it doesn't really matter. Montero reached base at a .406 clip with four doubles and four homers in 69 plate appearances last season. Extrapolate those numbers over 600 plate appearances and you'll have a solid idea of the type of offensive upside he brings. He'll be batting in the heart of the order for the next decade.
4. Yu Darvish, starting pitcher, Texas Rangers
Yes, Japanese pitchers have a troubling record in the major leagues. And yes, there's certainly a possibility that Darvish will fail. But no one's ever posted the type of numbers in Nippon Professional Baseball — including the once-heralded Daisuke Matsuzaka. His career-worst ERA in Japan is 1.88, and his lowest strikeouts per nine innings ratio is 8.3. Darvish is still just 25, throws six different pitches and has no history of injury. He should be an ace, and he's ready to pitch in the majors immediately.
3. Matt Moore, starting pitcher, Tampa Bay Rays
Another year goes by, and the Rays produce yet another top-10 pitching prospect. Moore lacks the pedigree of David Price or the polish of Jeremy Hellickson, but has an even higher ceiling than his prospect predecessors. He may struggle with his command at times, but Moore will likely challenge for the strikeout crown as early as this season, and is in some ways a similar player to reigning NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw.
2. Mike Trout, outfielder, Los Angeles Angels
Trout is the best prospect in the minors who's ready to contribute tomorrow, and if he were guaranteed 450 at-bats next season, he'd be the heavy favorite for AL Rookie of the Year. A true five-tool talent, Trout should provide Gold Glove-caliber defense in center and post an on-base percentage around .400 in his prime. He's Carlos Beltran with a touch more speed and less power, and it's downright criminal that he may lose playing time to the likes of Vernon Wells.
1. Bryce Harper, outfielder, Washington Nationals
No reason to overthink this one -– the most-hyped prospect in the history of the draft is also the top minor leaguer in the game. Harper's bat is already the stuff of legends, and in terms of power, he'd stack up well against Mike Stanton and Ryan Howard if he broke into the majors tomorrow. Add in a plus arm, above-average speed and that he held his own as an 18-year-old in Double-A last season, and his talent is obvious. Harper should see the majors by July, and will be one of the game's premier sluggers by 2014.
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