Where would the potential combination of Mark Appel and Carlos Rodon with the Astros sit on your rankings of the top pitching-prospect tandems?
-- Christopher E., Houston
Right now, Jon Gray and Eddie Butler of the Rockies claim the top spot on my pitching-duo rankings. Gray was the best player available in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, and he has the best pure stuff in the Minor Leagues right now. Butler's fastball/slider combination is second only to that of Gray.
As much as I love Gray and Butler, Appel and Rodon would move ahead of them. The Astros chose Appel with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 Draft, and as of now they're expected to grab Rodon with the top choice this year.
Rodon has two wipeout pitches with his fastball and slider, and he's the best college left-hander since David Price -- and he might be better than Price. Appel has a well-above-average fastball and slider, too, as well as a solid changeup and better control than any of these guys.
If you expanded your rankings of the best pitching prospect duos to trios, would there be any better than the Pirates' Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham?
-- Bill H., Kenosha, Wis.
Pittsburgh does have the best threesome of pitching prospects in the game. Though Kingham didn't make the cut for the Top 100, he received my vote. He has a plus fastball and breaking ball, a solid changeup, the ability to throw strikes and a tall frame built for durability.
Behind the Pirates, the top pitching trios belong to the Astros (Appel, Lance McCullers Jr. and Mike Foltynewicz), the Orioles (Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Eduardo Rodriguez), the Royals (Kyle Zimmer, Yordano Ventura and Miguel Almonte) and the Twins (Alex Meyer, Kohl Stewart and Jose Berrios). If Rodon were an Astro, Houston would have the best trio.
Of the Cubs' top prospects, who's the biggest lock to be a star and who has the biggest bust potential?
-- Joe A., Garner, N.C.
The Cubs placed seven players in the Top 100, tying the Astros for the second-most and trailing only the Red Sox, who had nine on the list. Chicago's magnificent seven: shortstop Javier Baez (No. 7), third baseman Kris Bryant (No. 9), outfielder Albert Almora (No. 18), right-hander C.J. Edwards (No. 42), outfielder Jorge Soler (No. 49), middle infielder Arismendy Alcantara (89) and righty Pierce Johnson (100).
While Almora is the safest bet to be a solid big league regular, Baez is a better bet to be a star. He has the power to lead the National League in homers one day, and he'll either be an effective shortstop or a potential Gold Glove-caliber third baseman. His aggressiveness at the plate doesn't worry me too much because he's able to make consistent hard contact, even when he chases pitches out of the strike zone.
Soler has a huge ceiling as well -- his power rivals that of Baez and Bryant -- but comes with more risk than the other Cubs on the Top 100. Multiple scouts noted his lack of consistent effort in 2013, his first full pro season. He drew a five-game suspension in April for charging the opposing dugout with bat in hand, got benched later in the month for not running at full speed and continued to draw criticism for indifference in the Arizona Fall League.
Both Manuel Margot (Red Sox) and Victor Reyes (Braves) are high-ceiling outfield prospects. They're nearly the same age, and both are likely to be assigned to full-season ball for the first time in 2014. Who has the higher ceiling, and who's the safer bet to reach his potential?
-- J.P. S., Springfield, Ill.
Margot and Reyes do have a lot of similarities. They both signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2011 -- Margot for $800,000, Reyes for $365,000 -- and made an easy transition to the United States last year. They will each play this season at age 19. At the plate, they're both advanced hitters for their age and could grow into average power.
Once they mature physically, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Reyes should have more power upside, though the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Margot has plenty of bat speed. Margot has plus speed and is a center fielder, while Reyes is an average runner who fits at a corner position.
Margot has a higher ceiling because he's a similar offensive player capable of manning a more challenging position. He also has the higher floor, with lesser offensive demands at his outfield spot and a better track record to this point. Margot more than held his own as the youngest position player in the short-season New York-Penn League in 2013, while Reyes spent the year in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
What is Max Pentecost's ceiling? Is he one of the top two catchers in the 2014 Draft?
-- Francisco A., Atlanta
On the MLBPipeline.com Top 50 Draft Prospects list that came out in November, Pentecost checked in at No. 20. That made him the third catcher on the list, behind San Diego high schooler Alex Jackson (No. 3) and Indiana slugger Kyle Schwarber (No. 14).
However, Jackson might move to right field to expedite his bat, similar to what happened with Bryce Harper and Wil Myers, and scouts have major questions as to whether Schwarber can stay behind the plate. It's fair to call Pentecost the best 2014 Draft prospect who definitely will be a catcher.
Pentecost has the potential to be an All-Star and can reasonably be projected to be a solid big league regular. He projects as having average or better tools across the board -- and that includes his speed, a rarity for a backstop.
He showed off his offensive prowess last summer by winning the Most Valuable Player Award in the Cape Cod League, which he led with a .962 OPS. Pentecost can refine his receiving and release, but he has the arm strength and athleticism to be a good defender.