Here's a ranking of the 10 prospects we're most excited to see light up the Midwest League in 2013:
No. 1. Carlos Correa (SS, Quad Cities River Bandits): The top prospect in the Midwest League is the top pick from last year's Draft. Correa possesses elite natural athletic ability and power, and he showed it last year when he hit three homers and 14 doubles in his first 50 games between the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Greeneville Astros.
Overall, he hit .258/.305/.400 in his first exposure to pro ball, and the 18-year-old Puerto Rican figures to build on that this year with the River Bandits. Ranked Houston's No. 2 prospect, expectations for Correa are sky-high.
No. 2. Byron Buxton (OF, Cedar Rapids Kernels): Fittingly, the No. 2 Midwest League prospect was the player selected directly after Correa last year, Byron Buxton. The 19-year-old outfielder from Georgia is loaded with potential in his own right, owning power, speed and an exciting glove in center field.
Buxton went to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League to begin his career last season and, despite a .216 average, got on base at a .324 clip and slugged .466 in 27 games. Upon a promotion to Elizabethton, he hit .286 with a homer and six doubles in 21 games. Overall, he finished the year with a .248/.344/.448 line in 48 games, including five homers, 10 doubles, four triples and 11 steals that suggest an emerging power/speed threat.
Albert Almora (OF, Kane County Cougars): Continuing a run of top 2012 picks is Almora, the Cubs' selection at sixth overall last year. Almora will miss the first few weeks of the season with a broken hamate bone in his left hand, but once he completes a rehab stint, likely in extended spring training, he should join Kane County for his first taste of full-season ball.
Almora bested both Buxton and Correa in his debut last year, hitting .321/.331/.464 in 33 games between the AZL Cubs and Class A Short-Season Boise. He knocked two homers and 12 doubles while stealing five bags and getting caught twice. His approach at the plate needs development, as he walked just twice and struck out 13 times in 140 at-bats, but he hasn't even turned 19 (his birthday is April 16), and his raw talent is clearly exceptional.
No. 4. Taylor Guerrieri (RHP, Bowling Green Hot Rods): Guerrieri ranks as the best pitching prospect on the circuit thanks to his impressive run in the New York-Penn League last year. A first-rounder in 2011, Guerrieri made his professional debut for Hudson Valley and dominated, putting up a 1.04 ERA in 52 innings.
The right-hander from South Carolina struck out 45 and, more impressively, walked just five batters in those 52 frames. That works out to a walks-per-nine-innings rate of less than one, at 0.87. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound 20-year-old has a powerful fastball and, evidently, great control to go with it.
No. 5. Robert Stephenson (RHP, Dayton Dragons): Stephenson, the 27th overall pick in 2011, gets a bump on this list for having already shown a level of success in the Midwest League, albeit in a small sample. The 20-year-old needed just seven starts in the Rookie-level Pioneer League last year to convince the Reds to move him up, knocking out a 2.05 ERA in 30 2/3 innings with 37 strikeouts and only eight walks.
The right-hander held his own for the Dragons over eight starts, as well, going 2-4 with a 4.19 ERA while striking out more than a batter an inning (35 in 34 1/3 frames). His 3.18 ERA in 65 total innings, with 72 strikeouts to 23 walks, suggest big things for 2013.
No. 6. Roberto Osuna (RHP, Lansing Lugnuts): Osuna, like Stephenson, earns a higher ranking over others with perhaps a better pedigree for his impressive body of work predating this season. The nephew of former Major League reliever Antonio Osuna, Roberto began his professional career as a 16-year-old in 2011, when he put a 5.49 ERA in 19 2/3 innings in the Mexican League, striking out 12 and walking 11. Not terribly strong numbers on their face, but consider that he was a 16-year-old facing grown men in an advanced, hitter-friendly league, and he wasn't remotely overwhelmed.
After signing with the Jays in August 2011, he moved to the Appalachian League last year and notched a 1.50 ERA in 24 innings, then posted a 3.20 mark in 19 2/3 Northwest League frames. In all, he had 49 strikeouts to 15 walks in 43 2/3 innings with a 2.27 ERA. Not bad for a 17-year-old.
No. 7. Max Fried (LHP, Fort Wayne TinCaps): Fried is the fourth top-10 pick from last year to appear on this list. The lefty, picked seventh by San Diego out of Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles, worked in the low 90s as a prep star but stands a projectable 6-foot-4. On top of that, he already works with a developed changeup and can sport a cutter that San Diego, as teams often do, will likely have him hold off on using until he gains more experience.
For the AZL Padres last year, he performed nicely in a small sample, putting up a 3.57 ERA in 17 2/3 innings with 17 punchouts and six walks.
No. 8. Dorssys Paulino (SS, Lake County Captains): Paulino, who was only 17 throughout last season, tore apart the Arizona League for the Indians. Signed by Cleveland for a bit more than $1 million in 2011, the Dominican Republic native hit .355/.404/.610 in the AZL, ripping six homers, six triples and 14 doubles in 41 games. In a 15-game taste of the New York-Penn League, he batted at a .271/.306/.407 clip.
In all, he finished with a .333/.380/.558 slash line in 56 contests across the two levels, grabbing 11 stolen bases while being caught just twice. With his youth and inexperience, he'll have the chance to take his time to develop in the Midwest League, as Francisco Lindor works a level ahead of him in the Carolina League.
No. 9. Corey Seager (SS, Great Lakes Loons): Seager, brother of Mariners third baseman Kyle, was also taken in the first round of the 2012 Draft (18th overall). Selected as a shortstop out of high school, the Dodgers could move the 6-foot-4, 215-pound 18-year-old (who will hit 19 on April 27) to third base.
Either way, his bat will play. Seager showed an advanced approach at the dish last year for Ogden in the Pioneer League, where he hit .309/.383/.520 with eight homers and nine doubles in 46 games, walking 21 times while striking out on just 33 occasions. He also flashed nice base-stealing ability, taking eight bags while getting caught in only two instances.
No. 10. Daniel Robertson (SS, Beloit Snappers): Robertson, like Almora, will miss the first few weeks of the season after tearing his meniscus in fall instructionals. When he arrives in Beloit, he'll join a young, talented lineup where he'll have the chance to show off his well-rounded bat.
Taken 34th overall by the A's last year out of Upland (Calif.) High School, Robertson walked (16) more often than he struck out (15) in 29 Arizona League games. He hit .297/.405/.554 for the AZL A's with four homers, two triples and 10 doubles before he went to the New York-Penn League and scuffled a bit. In all, he finished with a .241/.330/.400 line in 55 games last year.