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2015 MLB Draft Prospects: Ranking the Top Sleeper at Every Position

With the NCAA regionals set to begin on Friday, fans will soon have the opportunity to view some of the top draft prospects in the 2015 class, whether it is college shortstops Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman, prep outfielder Daz Cameron, left-handed pitcher Tyler Jay or right-hander Carson Fulmer.

However, this year’s crop of talent—which we explored in depth earlier this week—extends far beyond the aforementioned college standouts, and with 40 rounds of drafting over a three-day period, teams will have plenty of opportunities to find value where others don’t.

With that in mind, we’re going to break down the top sleeper candidates for the upcoming draft, focusing on one prospect at each position who isn’t getting the publicity or fanfare he deserves but projects well at the next level.

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7 Top MLB Prospects Who Won’t Live Up to Sky-High 2015 Expectations

It’s hard to not get excited when projecting the future impacts of baseball’s top prospects. Unfortunately, with that excitement usually come unreasonable expectations, which, when not met, can cause younger players to be unfairly perceived as “disappointments.”

These players won’t necessarily have bad years, but it might be difficult for them to live up to the high expectations ascribed to them at the beginning of the season. Of course, expectations for prospects come in all different shapes and sizes, as one player might be expected to make an impact in the major leagues, while another is expected to prove he belongs at a certain level in the minors.

With all that said, here are seven top MLB prospects who won’t live up to sky-high expectations in 2015.

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Hidden Under Kris Bryant Hype, Addison Russell Is Future MLB Superstar

The Chicago Cubs aren’t messing around.

Days after calling up uberprospect Kris Bryant, the Cubs called up phenom Addison Russell on Tuesday, a move that Jon Heyman of CBS Sports first reported.

Russell was in Pittsburgh for Tuesday night’s game and made his major league debut at second base.

While the news of Russell’s promotion comes as a surprise, there had been growing speculation that the Cubs might turn to the 21-year-old sooner rather than later after shifting him from shortstop to second base late last week. However, few expected him to get the call this soon.

Entering Tuesday, Cubs second basemen ranked last in the major leagues with a dismal .369 OPS and were yet to collect an extra-base hit. And with Javier Baez on the bereavement list (and in the minor leagues), Tommy La Stella on the disabled list and both Jonathan Herrera and Arismendy Alcantara not producing, it was clear some sort of change needed to happen.

The decision to promote Russell, whom the team acquired from the Athletics last July in the Jeff Samardzija trade, on April 21 indicates team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer believe he gives them the best chance to win moving forward. More importantly, it confirms that the organization has its sights set on a postseason berth in 2015.

With Russell, it’s not a question of whether his game is ready for the major leagues. Rather, his opening the season in the minor leagues had more to do with the Cubs’ logjam at both middle infield positions.

Russell had a great showing during spring training in his first camp with the Cubs, as he batted .317/.349/.488 with one home run, four doubles and six RBI in 13 games while playing exceptional defense at shortstop. Yet, with the aforementioned names ahead of him on the organizational depth chart, the 21-year-old found himself assigned to Triple-A Iowa to begin the season.

“I couldn’t tell him what to work on,” manager Joe Maddon said about Russell, per Carrie Muskat of, in late March after the team assigned him to Triple-A Iowa. “He’s that accomplished at that age. I told him, ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing.'”

And that’s exactly what he did: At the time of his call-up, Russell was batting .318/.326/.477 with one homer and four doubles through 46 plate appearances.

Epstein mentioned last Friday—the day of Bryant’s major league debut—that he was pleased with Russell’s start to the season, but he didn’t hint as to what the future might hold for the youngster.

“He’s playing very well,” Epstein told Jesse Rogers of “He hasn’t been at Triple-A all that long (seven games). But he’s playing great. He’s been having great at-bats, using the whole field. He’s played outstanding at shortstop the first week of the season. He’ll continue to develop at Triple-A, and we’ll see what happens.”

Russell may be young and inexperienced, but there’s little doubt about whether his tools and skills will translate immediately in the major leagues.

Here is my evaluation of Russell’s skills at the plate, from our 100 MLB future stars list April 15:

As a 6’0”, 200-pound right-handed hitter, Russell makes a lot of hard contact thanks to his plus bat speed and innate bat-to-ball skills. And he’s really started driving the ball to all fields with authority over the last year. …

Russell’s combination of plus bat speed and a deep point of contact should produce 20-25 home runs at the highest level, possibly more if he can convert some of his ground-ball outs and strikeouts into fly balls.

Defensively, Russell started just five games at second base for Iowa before his promotion, but there’s every reason to believe he’ll be able to learn the position and make adjustments on the go at the highest level.

For starters, Russell is already a better defender than Starlin Castro, argues’s Keith Law, and it’s long been believed that the former would eventually force the latter off shortstop:

Russell is the best shortstop of the entire group, so his arrival could hasten a chain of position switches with Baez going to third and Bryant to right field. It also could put Starlin Castro, who is showing signs of life with the bat again, on the trade block in the next 12 months, depending on Russell’s health and progress in the minors.

More specifically, Russell’s plus athleticism and quick feet give him incredible lateral range and result in many highlight-reel plays, and he’s become especially slick when charging the ball. In general, he plays the position with a lot of confidence and creativity, two qualities that will aid his transition to second base moving forward.

Now that he’s arrived, it’s a safe bet that Russell will be in the lineup almost every day, because, well, he’s simply that good. Plus, it’s hard to imagine the Cubs front office would promote the 21-year-old at the beginning of a crucial developmental year and not offer him everyday at-bats.

Russell, like teammates Bryant and Jorge Soler, isn’t a finished product, per se, and therefore will inevitably endure some growing pains at the highest level. However, all three players truly are special talents with seemingly infinite potential, and the Cubs are wise to allow their elite prospects to go through their final developmental stages in the major leagues.

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MLB’s Top 5 Hitting Prospects at Each Minor League Level

The 2015 Minor League Baseball season kicked off Thursday, with games being played across all four full-season levels. The day was full of standout performances from many of baseball’s most promising young hitters.

Making his full-season debut with Low-A Greenville, 2014 first-round draft pick Michael Chavis (No. 26 overall) cranked a game-tying home run in the seventh inning and then came back in the ninth to deliver a walk-off double.

Minnesota Twins third base prospect Miguel Sano, who missed the entire 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, played in a game for the first time since late 2013 and picked up where he left off with a solo home run.

And while he’s not much of a prospect, we’d be remiss not to mention the Opening Day performance of New York Yankees outfield prospect Ramon Flores, who hit for the cycle as part of a 4-for-4 performance that included three runs scored, two RBI and a walk.

With all that said, here are five must-follow hitters from each full-season level who will put up big numbers in 2015.

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Didi Gregorius Ready for Challenge of Reaching Potential, Taking on N.Y.

After Derek Jeter’s retirement, one of the biggest questions heading into Major League Baseball’s offseason was how the New York Yankees would replace The Captain at shortstop.

Based on previous years, the assumption was that the Yankees would sign an aging free agent such as Hanley Ramirez. However, general manager Brian Cashman decided to take a different route, acquiring Didi Gregorius from the Arizona Diamondbacks in early December as part of a three-team deal.

“I was a little surprised about the trade, I’m not going to lie,” Gregorius recently told Bleacher Report. “Because, you know, it’s the Yankees.”

To be pursued by the Bronx Bombers clearly meant something to the 25-year-old. Meanwhile, that the Yankees traded for Gregorius, of all people, was particularly appropriate.

When the Diamondbacks acquired Gregorius prior to the 2013 season, Kevin Towers, the team’s general manager at the time, said the shortstop reminded him of a young Derek Jeter.

Now, Gregorius is poised to play the same position in the same park occupied by Jeter for the better part of the last 20 years. It goes without saying that he has big shoes to fill, and it’s almost a guarantee that expectations will be unreasonably lofty.

As Jeter’s successor, Gregorius is fully aware he’s in a special and unique situation.

“I don’t look at it as being a long-term replacement, because I’m not really replacing him,” said Gregorius with a chuckle. “It’s not like he’s moving to second or third base.

“But it’s amazing to be playing shortstop for the Yankees after Jeter. I’m pretty sure he’s coming out here [spring training] to talk to the team, and I’m sure he’ll have advice for me, and I’ll be asking him questions.”

I broke down Gregorius’ chances of being the Yankees’ long-term fix at shortstop back in December:

Gregorius has always drawn rave reviews for his defense at shortstop, which is more or less the reason he’s now been included in two separate three-team trades in the last three years.

Gregorius has impressive range in all directions as well as natural fluidity at the position, and the defensive metrics support his reputation as a strong defender at shortstop.

Specifically, FanGraphs’ overall defensive rating (3.9 Def, min. 1,000 innings) for Gregorius over the last two seasons places him ahead of guys like Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Adeiny Hechavarria and—wait for it—Derek Jeter.

While Gregorius has already received high praise for his slick glove, the Yankees are hopeful his bat eventually will catch up.

There’s something to be said for Gregorius’ ability to consistently post an extra-base hit rate above 50 percent (he posted a 51 percent clip in 2013 and followed it with 58 percent last season). But with 13 career home runs in 724 plate appearances, Gregorius is unlikely to offer much over-the-fence power in his career.

Yet as a left-handed hitter who hits a lot of fly balls, it’s possible that Gregorius might enjoy a slight power spike playing at Yankee Stadium, which, coincidentally, was the scene of his first MLB home run on April 18, 2013.

“I’m looking forward to hitting at Yankee Stadium,” said Gregorius. “Everybody talks about the short porch in right field, but I’m not going to become a dead-pull hitter. Maybe I’ll hit a line-drive home run, you never know; but I’m planning on using the entire field.”

One area of focus for Gregorius moving forward will be improving against same-sided pitching, as he enters the 2015 season with a .184 batting average, zero home runs and 25 percent strikeout rate in 180 career plate appearances against southpaws.

“I focused on that this offseason because I’ve really never seen a lot of left-handed pitching, and you can’t get comfortable against them if you’re not seeing them,” stated Gregorius.

“I worked with Giants hitting coach Henry Meulens, and he helped me learn to stay closed against lefties, and I’ve already been talking about it with the hitting coaches here, too. So we’re making improvements.”

The Yankees’ decision to gamble on Gregorius’ age and upside was a healthy risk, as he’s a guy with five years of team control who can offer modest power from the left side of the plate to go along solid baserunning and defense.

From Joel Sherman of the New York Post:

A person familiar with the way the Yankees rate players say they add points to a player’s offensive ability based on how much he helps on defense, and that is why they had such interest in Gregorius. Plus, the Yankees feel it is hard to find offense in this market, particularly at shortstop. A team can improve by scoring more or giving up less. The Yankees believe Gregorius will help them give up less while still having the chance to grow into a competent hitter.

Gregorius knows the unavoidable comparisons to Jeter are likely to follow him through his first season in New York, and he’s eager to distinguish himself on the field from the future Hall of Famer. However, he also has a realistic grasp of the situation.

“I’m not going to put pressure on myself,” he said. “I’m just going to relax and play the game right and be the best I can be whenever I go out there. Don’t worry about anything else; just go game by game.”

For Gregorius, succeeding Jeter at shortstop for the Yankees is an afterthought to proving he’s an everyday player.

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Boom-or-Bust MLB Prospects Who Could Get White Hot This Spring

It seems every year there is at least one prospect who, despite not being regarded by the industry as a whole, blows past expectations in spring training and earns a spot on an Opening Day roster.

Most of the time, they are guys who do one or two things well: They have enough of one tool that their projected floor performance in the major leagues at least should be tolerable.

At the same time, if the player doesn’t meet those expectations, then his team won’t have to worry as much about a demotion or reduced playing time hurting his development as they would with a top-ranked prospect.

Here’s a look at some boom-or-bust prospects worth following closely in spring training.


Peter O’Brien, C, Arizona Diamondbacks

Peter O’Brien furthered his reputation as one of the minor league’s premier sluggers last season by launching 34 home runs in 427 plate appearances between the High-A and Double-A levels. But as has been the case during his career, O’Brien’s power came at the expense of consistent contact, as the 24-year-old fanned 26 percent of the time in 2014 compared to a five percent walk rate. That said, he still batted .271/.316/.594 and showed some defensive value by playing first base, right field and catcher.

When the Diamondbacks acquired O’Brien from the Yankees last July at the trade deadline, they did so for his potential to hit 25-plus home runs and possibly stick behind the plate. You see, he has long been scrutinized for his raw defense; detractors point to the natural challenges associated with his 6’3” frame, arguing that it limits his mobility and blocking ability.

However, the Diamondbacks believe O’Brien can handle catching in the major leagues, especially after the work he put in defensively during last year’s Arizona Fall League. In fact, general manager Dave Stewart recently stated that O’Brien could be the team’s long-term catcher, per Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic:

After trading Miguel Montero during the offseason, Arizona is, for whatever reason, content with opening the season with a combination of Tuffy Gosewisch, Gerald Laird and Rule 5 pick Oscar Hernandez behind the plate. It also means O’Brien could receive an extended look this spring, as he’s already drawing rave reviews for his exploits in batting practice.

While O’Brien’s power and upside certainly stands out most in the group—even if it translates to a high strikeout rate and low batting average—it will be his glove that ultimately determines his role and impact in the major leagues.


Steven Moya, OF, Detroit Tigers

Speaking of prodigious power, Steven Moya’s has always ranked among the best in the minor leagues, but a rash of injuries—including Tommy John surgery—caused him to fall behind the developmental curve, which is why he reached Double-A Erie for the first time this year in his sixth professional campaign.

Suffice it to say that Moya helped to make up for the lost time in a big way, as he was named MVP of the Double-A Eastern League after leading the circuit in home runs (35), RBI (105), extra-base hits (71) and slugging percentage (.555)—all career highs. He also set a single-season franchise record for Erie with 286 total bases in addition his batting totals. The Tigers rewarded Moya for his breakout season with a September call-up,

A 6’6” left-handed hitter, Moya’s bat speed, strength and leveraged swing fuel his enormous raw power to all fields, but there continues to be concern about his capacity to hit big league pitching. The 23-year-old’s path through the zone can be long, and he still lacks any semblance of plate discipline, which explains his 29.3 percent strikeout rate and 4.2 percent walk rate last season in 549 Triple-A plate appearances. Meanwhile, Moya continues to do the majority of his damage against right-handed pitching.

Even though manager Brad Ausmus has stated that Moya is unlikely to break camp with the team, there’s still a chance the Tigers will consider him for a bench role to begin the 2015 season if either Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez haven’t recovered from their respective injuries. If that were to be the case, then most of Moya’s at-bats would likely come as the designated hitter.


Frank Montas, RHP, Chicago White Sox

A pair of knee injuries limited Frank Montas to only 15 starts in 2014, his first season with the White Sox, but the right-hander still made a strong impression during his time with High-A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham and then opened even more eyes in the Arizona Fall League.

The 6’2”, 185-pound right-hander boasts a fastball in the high 90s that eats up opposing hitters. However, in spite of his improved control last season, Montas‘ delivery involves considerable effort and currently impedes his ability to locate pitches within the strike zone; he won’t dominate as many hitters at the top of the zone at higher minor league levels. Montas struggles to throw strikes consistently with his above-average-to-plus slider and average changeup, with the former serving as his best swing-and-miss offering.

The 21-year-old may be best suited for a bullpen role at the highest level, but any additional improvement to his secondary arsenal and command profile should further his stock as a potential starter.

Montas is a candidate to receive more innings this spring in the wake of Chris Sale’s foot injury, according to Scott Merkin of He’ll have to really impress the organization to win a spot, however, as he’ll be competing against fellow prospects Carlos Rodon and Chris Beck.

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Is Carlos Martinez Ready to Become Impact Starting Pitcher in MLB?

It wasn’t long after the end of the 2014 season that general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny informed Carlos Martinez that he’d report to spring training as a starter in 2015.

It was the same message Mozeliak had for the 23-year-old right-hander after the 2013 season.

But after losing to Joe Kelly last spring, Martinez seems to have an inside track toward the final spot in the team’s Opening Day rotation this time around, a spot made available through the trades of Kelly and Shelby Miller.

Armed with a triple-digit fastball and a deep arsenal of swing-and-miss offerings, Martinez has emerged as one of the more dominant late-inning relievers in baseball, making 70 appearances out of the Cardinals’ bullpen since arriving on the scene in May 2013.

Yet the organization has never given up on his upside as a starter. It’s probably because the right-hander showed huge potential in the role during his time in the minor leagues, with a 2.61 ERA, .215 opponents’ batting average and 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 338 innings over 69 starts (70 appearances overall).

Martinez has started eight games for the Cardinals over the last two seasons, but his inconsistency in the role as well as the organization’s pitching depth have kept him from locking down a spot in the rotation.

This year, however, Martinez is determined to break camp as a starter. He spent part of the offseason playing in the Dominican Winter League, where he pitched to a 2.25 ERA with 26 strikeouts against two walks in 24 innings (five starts), and he’s already received glowing reviews from members of the organization after reporting to spring training ahead of schedule.

“A year ago you’d just see a kid bounding around here. It’s amazing the transformation,” Matheny told The Associated Press (h/t Fox Sports Midwest) earlier in the week. “In general there’s a whole different demeanor to him.”

So will this be the year Martinez finally sticks as a starter?

As a reliever, Martinez throws mostly fastballs, both four-seamers and sinkers, and sliders, and they’re each extraordinary pitches by all measures.

Martinez’s average fastball velocity of 96.7 mph in 2014 was tied for third highest among all pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched, per FanGraphs, while Brooks Baseball says he topped out at 101.97 mph last April.

Unsurprisingly, Martinez also throws his sinker (or two-seam fastball) exceptionally hard, averaging 95.2 mph with the pitch. He can struggle to control the pitch (17.78 percent strike rate) but generally keeps it down in the zone, as only seven percent of the balls put in play last season against his sinker were in the air compared to 65 percent on the ground.

So what makes the 23-year-old’s sinker so good? Beyond throwing it harder than most other pitchers, Martinez’s sinker stands out for its difference in vertical movement relative to his four-seamer. Specifically, the right-hander’s fastball averaged 8.2 inches of vertical movement last season where as his sinker had 3.2 inches, meaning there was more than a five-inch gap between pitches.

And then there’s Martinez’s slider, which was his best swing-and-miss offering last season thanks to a 24.2 percent whiff rate, per Brooks Baseball. In general, his slider generated whiffs on 45.5 percent of all swings. Martinez’s success with the pitch might have something to do with the fact he threw it nearly five miles per hour harder last season (86.5 mph) than he did in 2013 (81.6 mph), as it also allowed him to create more vertical movement.

Martinez’s changeup was widely viewed as his best secondary offering during his rise through the minor leagues, but he’s had to dial back his use of the pitch significantly as a reliever. But while the right-hander threw it only 2.9 percent of the time, he still was able to produce a nearly 21 percent whiff rate.

Improving his changeup has been a focal point for Martinez this offseason, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

It’s a circle changeup and it has depth to it. The changeup is not a new pitch for him. There was a time during his development that a scout told me Martinez could get “changeup happy” when he should just pile-drive the fastball. Played off his fastball, the changeup was viewed was one of his best and most deceptive pitches as he worked his way through the minors.

But for as good as Martinez’s stuff is, the 23-year-old still has plenty of room for improvement in terms of his command, evidenced by his 3.63 walks per nine innings last season.

The bigger issue is Martinez’s career splits, as he’s dominated right-handed batters in the major leagues but struggled mightily against lefties.

More specifically, he has problems throwing strikes and induce whiffs from left-handed hitters like he does righties:

Combine all that with the concerns regarding his long-term durability as a starter, and you begin to see why the Cardinals want Martinez to earn his spot in the rotation this spring. His main competition is left-handers Jaime Garcia and Marco Gonzales, and it’s possible that Carlos Villanueva could also receive consideration should the other hurlers struggle.

However, none of them have as much upside as Martinez.

Few do.

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Will 2015 MLB Draft Prospect Brady Aiken Go No. 1 Overall in Back-to-Back Years?

Last year’s No. 1 overall draft pick became eligible for the 2015 draft on Thursday, as IMG Academy announced Brady Aiken will pitch for its postgraduate baseball team this spring.

Aiken and the Houston Astros famously were unable to reach an agreement before the July 15 signing deadline, and it was expected that the 18-year-old left-hander would sign on with a junior college program and re-enter the draft.

Right-hander Jacob Nix, who failed to sign with the Astros as a fifth-round pick last year and ultimately settled a grievance with the club in November, will join Aiken at IMG, and both pitchers will once again audition for scouts leading up to the June 8 draft.

“We’re excited for Brady [Aiken] to join us at IMG Academy,” said IMG Academy’s director of baseball, Dan Simonds, via its official website. “At IMG [Academy] he will have access to everything from world-class coaches and performance experts to top-notch facilities and the latest technology.”

Aiken was the top prospect in the 2014 draft class, and he should be among the best—if not the best—this time around. Still, a lot can happen between now and early June that could potentially affect his draft stock.

So, how realistic is it that Aiken will be selected first overall for the second straight year?

It wasn’t long after last year’s draft, two days to be exact, that Aiken reportedly agreed to a $6.5 million bonus with the Astros, according to writer Jim Callis. On June 23, the Cathedral Catholic High left-hander arrived in Houston to make his signing official, which obviously didn’t happen.

After two weeks of speculation as to why Aiken had yet to sign, Jon Heyman of reported that the Astros saw something they didn’t like in a post-draft MRI of the then-17-year-old’s left elbow. As a result, the team immediately reduced its offer to Aiken from $6.5 to $5 million, well below the $7.9 million slot value for the No. 1 overall pick.

Ken Rosenthal of went on to report that the Astros believed “Aiken’s physical revealed a ‘significant abnormality’ in the area of his elbow ligament,” and he also added that the team had made another revised offer to the southpaw of $3,168,840.

However, Aiken’s adviser, Casey Close, who also advises Nix, maintained throughout the ordeal that his client was fully healthy contrary to reports of an elbow issue, per Rosenthal.

Aiken will now have the opportunity to erase any doubt regarding his health at IMG Academy, which was ranked by as the No. 2 high school team in the country prior to his enrollment.

According to’s Keith Law:

Aiken is expected to report to IMG this week and should be ready to face live hitters in game action in about two weeks. The source indicated that Aiken is likely to make seven to nine starts for IMG, enough for scouts from MLB teams to evaluate him while limiting his innings enough to allow him to pitch a full summer for the team that drafts and signs him.

At 6’3″, 210 pounds, Aiken, who doesn’t turn 19 until August, projects as a front-line starter with the potential for three plus offerings and an outstanding feel for his craft. Basically, it’s easy to make a case for him as the top draft prospect for 2015.

“I don’t know how you don’t have him at No. 1, especially in a fairly weak draft class,” one American League scout told ESPN Insider Christopher Crawford earlier this month.

“You don’t see left-handers with three plus pitches and borderline plus-plus command come around very often, and you get that in Aiken. That could change if he struggles this spring or someone steps up more than we expect, but if you’re asking me today, Aiken’s the guy.”

That’s not to say Aiken won’t have competition for the No. 1 spot, though.

Brendan Rodgers (Lake Mary HS; Lake Mary, Florida) is currently the top position player in this year’s class, as he projects as a plus hitter with plus power and has a legitimate chance to stick at shortstop.

Meanwhile, there will be numerous pitchers trying to overtake Aiken on the draft boards this spring, a group that currently includes college right-handers Michael Matuella (Duke), Kyle Funkhouser (Louisville) and Walker Buehler (Vanderbilt), as well as high-ceiling prep left-handers Kolby Allard (San Clemente HS; San Clemente, California) and Justin Hooper (De La Salle HS; Pasadena, California).

That being said, Aiken is a safe bet to come off the board very early in the first round so long as he stays healthy. Even a poor performance this spring for IMG is unlikely to significantly affect his draft stock.

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What to Expect from Dodgers’ Teen Pitching Sensation Julio Urias This Spring

Dodgers prospect Julio Urias made a statement last spring in his first big league camp, as the then-17-year-old struck out a pair of Padres as part of a scoreless inning.

This year, Urias, now 18, is back in camp with the Dodgers and ready to prove to the organization that despite his age and relative lack of experience, he’s ready for the major leagues. Positive reports on Urias have already started to come in this spring, with veteran A.J. Ellis offering high praise for the teenager after a recent bullpen session.

“I’d like to know how old he really is because there’s no way a kid 18 years old can have that type of composure,” Ellis joked, via Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. “That’s what was most impressive to me, his tempo, his ability to stay in the moment.”

But even if Urias dazzles this spring as he’s expected to, the Dodgers still are likely to send him to the minor leagues for the start of the season. At the same time, with all eyes on the left-hander this spring, he certainly stands to improve his estimated time of arrival in The Show.

The Dodgers signed Urias in August 2012 and sent him to Low-A Great Lakes in the Midwest League the following year for his professional debut. Though he was the youngest player at a full-season level, Urias, only 16 at the time, posted an outstanding 2.48 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 54.1 innings over 18 starts.

Urias solidified his status as one of the game’s top pitching prospects in 2014, as the precocious left-hander dominated older hitters in the hitter-friendly California League in his age-17 season. After celebrating his 18th birthday on Aug. 12, Urias capped his outstanding campaign by posting a 0.44 ERA with 31 strikeouts over his final 20.1 innings (five starts) for High-A Rancho Cucamonga.

On the season, the southpaw pitched to a 2.36 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with 109 strikeouts in 87.2 innings while also holding opposing hitters to a dismal .194/.292/.290 batting line.

Urias’ stuff and feel for his craft are truly special, and not just in the context of his age. The 5’11”, 160-pound left-hander’s mechanics are smooth and repeatable, allowing him to find a consistent release point from a three-quarters slot. His fastball already sits in the low 90s and bumps 94-95 mph, and he’s adept at manipulating the pitch to generate both sinking and cutting action.

The southpaw’s curveball shows plus potential in the 78-82 mph range, and he has a distinct feel for changing the shape and pace via adding/subtracting. Urias also throws a fading changeup in the low 80s with late fading action, though his feel for the pitch lags behind his other two offerings. 

Urias isn’t your average pitching prospect, and so far, the Dodgers haven’t treated him as such, challenging the teenager with aggressive full-season assignments.

“I’ve never had an 18-year-old that I’ve played with or managed with that kind of polish with four pitches,” said Rancho Cucamonga manager P.J. Forbes via “You watch him throw a bullpen [session], it’s special. You watch him attack hitters during a game, it’s special. There’s really not enough adjectives to explain or talk about his development this year because it just seems to continue to grow.”

While Urias’ stuff seems to be about ready for the major leagues, the Dodgers are understandably hesitant to cut him loose at the highest level with only 142 career innings under his belt (not including spring training or any minor league playoff appearances). Plus, the southpaw hasn’t been stretched out at this point in his promising career, as he’s been allowed to complete five innings just twice in 43 career games (38 starts).

“I think, with him, it’s just going to be using his total innings last year and building off that,” general manager Farhan Zaidi said about Urias’ potential workload, via Hernandez. “In general, you don’t want a guy’s innings to jump by more than 20 or 50 innings or so.”

By that logic, Urias will probably log around 100-120 innings next season, as the organization is expected to finally loosen its leash on the enormously talented left-hander.

“I’ll categorize it like this: They are going to take the gloves off a little bit. I don’t know the exact number of innings, the number of pitches, but it sounds like he’s growing up,” manager Don Mattingly said, via Eric Stephen of True Blue LA. “That’s part of the player-development side.”

Urias is a safe bet to debut in the major leagues as a teenager, but he’s far from a lock to do so in 2015, according to Mattingly:

“Probably not. I don’t think that is part of the plan. With our guys you want to give them the best chance to develop, so that when they do come it’s not back-and-forth. Everybody really has high hopes for him, and nobody wants to see him rushed.”

It would seem that the 2016 season is a realistic estimated time of arrival for Urias, though that obviously will depend on his performance during spring training and the regular season, which he’s likely to begin in Double-A.

That Urias is so off-the-charts advanced makes it easy to overlook his age and limited workload as a professional, but we’re still talking about an 18-year-old kid with less than 150 career minor league innings to his name.

Even if Urias were to reach the major leagues in 2015, it still might take him several years to settle in against the game’s top hitters and work his way to the front end of the team’s starting rotation.

However, given Urias’ overwhelming successes in previous years and the rave reviews he’s received from players, coaches and front-office personnel alike, it’s clear that no matter what happens this year, the young left-hander has an increasingly bright future ahead of him.

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The 2015 MLB Prospects-to-Watch Team at Spring Training

The start of Cactus and Grapefruit League games next week means all eyes will soon be trained on baseball’s top prospects. However, with so many top-ranked young players in major league camp, focusing may be a little tricky.

Fans hoping to catch a glimpse of a future superstar will have an overwhelming number of chances to do so over the next month, as teams will be offering their best prospects extensive playing time early in the spring schedule so as to evaluate them against proven big leaguers.

Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.

While there will be a solid collection of prospects on the field in any given game this spring, certain guys stand out as simply must-watch entertainment.

Here is the 2015 spring training MLB Prospects-to-Watch Team.

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