After a long winter of terrible weather -- especially in my part of the country on the North Side of Chicago -- it's hard to believe that our first honest-to-goodness Spring Training games are less than a week away. Opening Day beckons a little more than a month in the future, and the First-Year Player Draft is only two months after that, and you guys have plenty of questions on both. Let's get to them.
Who do you think will be the top prospect at each level of the Minors at the start of the season?
-- Craig W., Madison, Wis.
Working our way down from the top, the best prospect likely to open the season in the Major Leagues is Xander Bogaerts (No. 2 on the MLBPipeline.com Top 100 list). He figures to start at either shortstop or third base for the Red Sox.
Outfielder Oscar Taveras (No. 3) is the best hitting prospect around and ready for the big leagues now, but the Cardinals don't have a clear opening in their lineup. Right-hander Archie Bradley (No. 5) faces a similar situation with rotation depth with the D-backs. I suspect we'll see both Taveras and Bradley in Triple-A at the beginning of the season, though Cubs shortstop Javier Baez (No. 7) is a bigger lock to wind up there.
Twins outfielder Byron Buxton (No. 1), the game's top prospect, is ticketed for Double-A. Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (No. 8) is going to Class A Advanced, where he should do a lot of damage at Lancaster, one of the friendliest hitting environments in the Minors.
The top high school prospects from the 2013 First-Year Player Draft are destined for Class A: Twins right-hander Kohl Stewart (No. 40), Pirates outfielder Austin Meadows (No. 45) and Indians outfielder Clint Frazier (No. 48). Nationals right-hander Lucas Giolito (No. 44) also may start the season in Class A but might not spend very long there as he continues to put Tommy John surgery further in his past.
The best prospect who'll begin the season in extended spring camp is Orioles right-hander Dylan Bundy (No. 20), who's recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery last June. His rehabilitation is going very well, and he could head to Class A Advanced in late May and be in Baltimore a month or two later.
Of the current top 15 Draft prospects, who can make the biggest jump based on what they show this year?
-- Tory J., Tampa, Fla.
Gainesville (Ga.) High School outfielder Michael Gettys immediately jumps to mind. For the third straight year, the most electric high school talent is a prep outfielder from the Peach State, with Gettys following Buxton (2012), Frazier and Meadows (2013).
Gettys posted some eye-popping numbers at the Perfect Game National Showcase last June, running the 60-yard dash in 6.43 seconds, uncorking a throw clocked at 100 mph from the outfield and working at 91-94 mph off the mound. If he were solely a pitcher, he'd be an early-round prospect, but he'll get drafted as an outfielder.
The big question is how much Gettys will hit. He has a lot of bat speed and raw power, but he swings and misses more than he should and has struggled against quality breaking pitches.
We rated Gettys as the 10th-best Draft prospect coming into the year. If he were to somehow answer all of the questions about his bat, he'd go near the very top of the Draft and likely would be the first high school player drafted.
What are your thoughts on catchers Yan Gomes (Indians) and Josmil Pinto (Twins)? Both guys had nice enough seasons that they could emerge as full-time starters in 2014, but neither has a "top prospect" pedigree. Are they half as good as they seemed at the end of last year? Will they outhit Mike Zunino (Mariners) and Travis d'Arnaud (Mets)?
-- Joe M., Toronto
Neither Gomes nor Pinto received much hype when they were rising through the Minors. Though they hit reasonably well, they were revelations as rookies last season. Gomes' .826 OPS ranked fourth in the Majors among catchers with 300 plate appearances, while Pinto produced a .963 OPS during his September callup.
Part of the reason Gomes and Pinto weren't touted as prospects was that there were questions about their defensive ability. They both have enough arm strength, but they have to improve as receivers. They have made some progress, though they still have to prove they're good enough to play regularly behind the plate in the big leagues.
It looks like the Indians have more confidence in Gomes' defense than the Twins do in Pinto's at this point. Cleveland will move Carlos Santana from behind the plate to third, while Minnesota brought in Kurt Suzuki as its No. 1 catcher (at least at the start of the season).
To get to the crux of Joe's question, Gomes and Pinto are potential Major League regulars, but I want to see more production before I believe what they did last season is their true level of production. Zunino entered 2012 as baseball's top catching prospect, and d'Arnaud did the same this year. In the long run, I'd bet heavily on Zunino and d'Arnaud over Gomes and Pinto.
Where would East Carolina right-hander Jeff Hoffman slot into the MLB.com Top 100 Prospects list?
-- Roger D., San Francisco
Hoffman ranked No. 2 on our initial Draft Prospects list, behind only North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon. Hoffman has the look of a frontline starter, as he can work in the mid-90s with his fastball and has two more future plus pitches in his curveball and changeup. Like most young pitchers, he can be inconsistent at times, and he also doesn't miss as many bat as his stuff would suggest he should.
Comparing him to college pitchers in the 2013 Draft, I'd slot Hoffman in back of Jon Gray (Rockies, No. 14 on our Top 100) and Mark Appel (Astros, No. 17). I'd also put him behind the top college arms from the 2012 Draft, Kyle Zimmer (Royals, No. 25) and Kevin Gausman (Orioles, No. 31), both of whom have proven themselves at significantly higher levels than Hoffman has.
I could see Hoffman as high as 32, but I also believe strongly in the next few righties on the Top 100: Kyle Crick (Giants, No. 32), Yordano Ventura (Royals, No. 35), Stewart (Twins, No. 40), Eddie Butler (Rockies, No. 41), C.J. Edwards (Cubs, No. 42) and Giolito (Nationals, No. 44). I'd be tempted to put Hoffman at No. 45 -- which is saying something considering he has yet to play above the college level.
What are your thoughts on Cardinals right-hander Alex Reyes' unusual path to pro ball?
-- Tony N., Minneapolis
Reyes grew up in New Jersey, but he bypassed the Draft by moving to the Dominican Republic to live with extended family before his high school senior season. Once he spent a year in the Dominican, he became eligible to sign as an international free agent and joined the Cardinals for $950,000 in December 2012. Now he's one of their top prospects, hitting 97 mph with his fastball and getting plenty of swings and misses with his hard curveball.
Reyes may have exploited a loophole, but he didn't break any rules. There's nothing wrong with a player betting on himself and maximizing his earning power. If he comes anywhere close to reaching his potential, he'll be worth a lot more than St. Louis' initial investment.