Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2014 season approaching, MiLB.com takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.
Shining star: Addison Russell, SS
What can be said about a guy who, in his first full season, posted a .377 on-base percentage with 17 homers and 21 stolen bases? For those reasons and for his stellar play at shortstop, MLB.com has ranked Addison Russell as its No. 12 overall prospect.
"The guy is a freak," said fellow A's shortstop prospect Dan Robertson, Russell's roommate in Arizona this spring. "He plays tremendously hard on defense. He hits the crap out of the ball. He also has a passion for the game. He's going to a have a good year because that's the type of kid and player he is. The guy's impressed a lot of guys in pro baseball. I expect him go out and keep doing what he's been doing."
Russell hit .280 with two doubles and a triple in 12 Cactus League games and would have played more had he not suffered a strained hamstring on March 11. Russell seems primed for success at the Double-A level this season, but even if he struggles to make adjustments in the Texas League, he's still only 20 years old.
Breakout prospect: Billy McKinney, OF
The 24th overall pick in last year's Draft, McKinney came out of a Texas high school and had seven hits, four RBIs and three runs scored in his first three pro games in the Rookie-level Arizona League. He went 1-for-19 from June 24-29, then more than recovered with a .452 on-base percentage by the end of August. On Aug. 21, he gave the level something to remember him by, going 5-for-6 with a double and two runs scored.
Three games later, he was moved up to short-season Vermont. Between the two levels, he totaled 15 extra-base hits and eight steals over 55 games in his pro debut. His bat is what made him a first-rounder, but his decent speed and strong throwing arm didn't hurt.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound center fielder already has been tabbed as Oakland's No. 7 prospect. It's hard to guess how high he might climb once he shows what he's capable of over a full season.
At a crossroads: Anthony Aliotti, 1B
Aliotti, who had a monster first three-quarters of a season while repeating Double-A (.452 OBP in 91 games), went on to bat .266 with seven extra-base hits over 42 games during his first crack at Triple-A with Sacramento. It was by far the strongest of Aliotti's five pro seasons. And, considering he turns 27 in July, this will be a key year in his development. If it goes well, he'll establish himself as a guy with the ability to offer serious contributions at the big league level. If it doesn't, he'll have a lot to prove in a shrinking time frame.
"I've got to go out there and produce the best I can," Aliotti said. "I put up good numbers the last couple years and kind of got my name out there a little bit more. Going into this year now, I feel like I have to produce again and have a good season, and if I do, hopefully get a look at that next level."
Before he can get that look, he figures to start the season back in Sacramento. Although he knows he's set the bar high, Aliotti's trying to shrug off any extra pressure.
"The more pressure you put on yourself, well, it doesn't really do much good for you, the way I see it," he said. "I know it's a cliché, but you really have to go out there and take it game by game. In Sacramento, it's always a really nice crowd there, so it's a really fun place to play. And that helps."
More to keep an eye on: Dan Robertson, the fourth-ranked A's prospect, is likely ticketed to join the team's No. 2 prospect, pitcher Michael Ynoa, on the Stockton team in the California League. ... Righty Raul Alcantara came to Oakland from Boston in the Andrew Bailey trade in December 2011. He struggled in the Midwest League in 2012 but was dominant there and in the Cal League last year. He appears primed for Double-A competition with Midland. ... Third baseman Renato Nunez, who turns 20 on April 4, slugged 19 home runs in 128 Midwest League games last year. The A's player development staff has praised his work ethic, and if his discipline has improved, he could put together quite the campaign in the power-hitter haven of the Cal League.