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 2015 season approaching, MiLB.com takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.
Loudest tool: D.J. Davis, CF
Few player comparisons seem more compelling these days than saying someone is as fast as Billy Hamilton, and that's just what some are claiming about this 20-year-old outfielder. Still a few years from the Majors, Davis' speed grades as an 80 on the 20-80 scale, according to MLB.com. That's elite, obviously, but as the saying goes, you can't steal first base. With a .213 average and .268 OBP at Lansing last year, the 2012 first-rounder has slipped from ninth among Toronto's top prospects to No. 20. His other tools are still raw, but with his ability to cover ground in center field, the Jays are hoping it's just a matter of time before his bat catches up with the rest of his game.
"Our scouts call him an 'eight' runner, which is the best grade you can give," said Toronto's vice president of baseball operations and assistant general manager Tony LaCava. "From the left side he can consistently get to first base in 3.9 seconds.
"I wouldn't compare anyone to Billy Hamilton -- he's such a special player -- but we think D.J. has a skill set that's as good. But it's not only speed. He has nice raw power; we just have to be patient because he's so young. If he were in college, he would be where most sophomores are. We hope his potential matches his tools."
Shining Star: Daniel Norris, LHP
Norris made national headlines when the tale of him living out of the back of his van went viral this off-season. Now the 21-year-old is primed to build on a breakout 2014 and make news for his on-field performance. With a plus fastball and two above-average offerings in his slider and changeup, Norris has the tools to dominate at the highest level for years to come. His curveball remains a work in progress, and his command has been spotty at times, but with a bit more seasoning, Norris projects to win double-digits games from the heart of the Blue Jays' rotation.
"It starts with his athleticism. He's just a great athlete and has a great arm," said LaCava. "He's got all the stuff. He added a changeup, which he did not have last year, so he has out-pitches with his fastball, curveball, slider and change. Last year we started to see that potential. He has all the ability in the world. Now it's just about getting the practice and putting those sequences together."
A season-ending injury to Marcus Stroman this spring has opened a door for Norris to the Major League roster when the team heads north, but LaCava said the organization is in no rush to force Norris into the rotation.
"We wouldn't do anything to a young pitcher for an emergency -- that's not the right thing to do," he said. "We let talented players let us know when they're ready. It wouldn't be right to force a guy up that's not ready. They have to show us they're ready, and when they do, we're not afraid to move them up."
Breakout prospect: Mitch Nay, 3B
Nay didn't have the explosive year that some expected in 2014 after he tore up the Appalachian League 12 months earlier, but there's every chance his breakout comes in Dunedin this season. A prototypical third baseman at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Nay has a strong arm that profiles well at the hot corner -- now it's a matter of his power stroke developing and turning doubles into homers. He smacked 34 two-baggers in Lansing last season, showing what MLB.com described as "a good approach at the plate and quick hands." Nay will turn 22 later this year, so he's entering his prime, and as long as he doesn't get too concerned with trying to hit the ball out of the notoriously large Florida State League parks, he should see a spike in his numbers across the board.
"We expect Mitch to have a big year," LaCava said. "He showed a glimpse of that in the Midwest League, and we think he's just scratching the surface. We expect him to be a middle-of-the-order player for the big league team. He's a good hitter with a lot of raw power, and we think the power is going to show up in games soon.
"We believe the saying that power is the last tool to develop. He's worked hard to be a better hitter. Showing raw power in batting practice is one thing. Finding a swing that is consistent and can be repeated when the pitching is live takes time. Over time, guys learn how to drive the ball and learn which balls they can drive. It takes more than raw power to hit the ball 400 feet."
Full-season debutant: Dan Jansen, C
Jansen has been limited to Rookie-level ball in each of his first two season -- the Gulf Coast League in 2013, where he hit .246 in 36 games, and the Appalachian League last year when he hit .282 in 38 contests. A two-way catcher with a solid arm and powerful, compact swing, the 19-year-old Wisconsin native should move up to a full-season league to begin 2015. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder slugged .484 in 124 at-bats in 2014, up from just .281 12 months earlier when he collected four extra-base hits in five weeks.
"He was a pleasant surprise for where we took him in the Draft [16th round in 2013], and he has a chance to be a complete player," LaCava said. "His bat is good and he'll hit and hit with power, and he's a big, durable catcher with a strong throwing arm."
At the crossroads: Dwight Smith, LF
At 22 years old, Smith is at crucial phase of his development, entering Opening Day having never played above the Florida State League. He traded a little speed for a little power last year as he moved up a level, but he was able to maintain a solid walk rate and average while cutting down on his strikeouts.
A first-round pick in 2011, he'll need to produce at Double-A if he's to remain on track. A down year in New Hampshire, where he'll be facing some of the top arms in the Minors, could delay his ascent to Toronto, but his 12 homers in a tough-hitting environment last year show that his power can play up just as well as his range.
"We like Dwight Smith," LaCava said. "He's a guy we think will hit. He has great potential to help us in the next year or two. He can play center field, he's good in left and adequate in right. He can go either way, but we think his bat is good enough to profile in left field."
More to keep an eye on: Ranked as MLB.com's No. 10 catching prospect heading into the season, 6-foot-2 first-round Draft pick Max Pentecost will not be ready for Opening Day after undergoing surgery for a partially torn right labrum in October. Similarly Jeff Hoffman, taken ninth overall two picks before Pentecost last summer, will also start the year in extended spring training recovering from May's Tommy John surgery. ... Nineteen-year-old infielder Richard Urena, whom LaCava described as a "true shortstop," could begin the year in Lansing, but 18-year-old Yeltsin Gudino will remain in extended spring until at least June, at which time the Blue Jays will decide where to send him. ... MLB.com suggests Dawel Lugo's range may result in him being moved to third base, but LaCava insists he will stick in the middle infield.
Ashley Marshall is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB.