Toolshed: A closer look at hot and cold starts

Adding context to some noteworthy early-season performances

Switch-hitter Yoan Moncada is off to a great start but will need to hit lefties better to show he's ready for the Majors. (Chris Robertson/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | April 12, 2017 12:15 PM ET

Real baseball is here, and with real baseball comes real results. No more jabbering about what happened in 2016 and what it might mean for 2017. Now comes discussion about what is actually happening. It's a wonderful thing.

But before anyone races out of the gate to discuss whose stock is soaring and whose is plunging, let's stay in first gear. The Land of the Small Sample has a speed limit, after all, and perspective is as important as ever. 

Below are some of MLB.com's top 100 prospects who've gotten off to remarkably hot or cold starts through Minor League Baseball's first week and an analysis of whether there's cause for encouragement or concern as well as some questions that will need to be answered as the season progresses.

Yoan MoncadaNew organization, new level, no problem. Moncada, who became MLB.com's top overall prospect Tuesday night with the graduation of Andrew Benintendi, took off at the plate with seven hits over his first two games for Triple-A Charlotte. He's since calmed down some but still owns a .370/.452/.593 line with two homers and two steals in six games, showing off his above-average power and plus speed. The stats to gauge going forward will be his strikeout totals and ability to hit from the right side. The 21-year-old struck out in 12 of his 20 plate appearances in the Majors with the Red Sox, and though those numbers are down to 10 K's in 30 plate appearances in the International League, it's still not satisfactory. In an even smaller sample, he hasn't shown whether he can handle left-handers, going 1-for-8 so far. (The one hit is a homer, however.) Last season, Moncada went 6-for-36 (.167) with 19 strikeouts against Double-A southpaws. Sample size aside, those numbers will need to improve if this strong start is going to be anything more than a mirage.

Video: Charlotte's Moncada goes yard

Anthony AlfordOn Tuesday, the Blue Jays' No. 3 prospect went 1-for-3, and it felt like a disappointment. Indeed, that's the precedent Alford set by going 10-for-16 in his first five games for Double-A New Hampshire. A .625/.700/.625 line over any stretch is insanely good, even if it is just a handful of games, but note that the batting average mirrors the slugging percentage -- yes, Alford's 10 hits have all been singles. Six of those have been on the ground, and two have been infield hits. Alford does deserve credit because his plus-plus speed is going to get him some extra hits over the course of the season, but in the age of launch angles, it'd be more promising if Alford was getting the ball in the air or on a line more regularly. Of course, this is still an incredibly promsing start for a promising talent who was on the disabled list with a knee injury at this point last season.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.The Blue Jays pushed their top prospect to Class A Lansing after he just turned 18 in March -- yes, we're talking about a player in full-season ball who was born in 1999 -- but you can't tell by his performance. MLB.com's No. 31 overall prospect is 6-for-16 (.375) with a homer, double, two RBIs and five runs scored in his first five games as the second-youngest player in the Midwest League. The most impressive part of his game has been his advanced approach as he's taken five walks while striking out only twice in 21 plate appearances. That's typically a part of the game that develops over time for young hitters, but Guerrero showed his ability to read the strike zone last season with a 35/33 K/BB ratio in 276 plate appearances at Rookie-level Bluefield. The right-handed-hitting third baseman will be tested as Class A pitchers begin to adjust to him, but Blue Jays fans should feel good about how he's started his first full season.

Video: Top Jays prospect Guerrero hits first MWL blast

Francisco MejiaWhat's there to know about Mejia? First, he had a 50-game hitting streak last season and showed he can be above-average with the bat, though with not much power. Second, he's got the arm to make any runner think twice about trying to swipe a bag. Well, through five games at Double-A Akron, check and check. The 21-year-old backstop has (surprise, surprise) hits in each of his five games in the Eastern League, going 8-for-18 (.444). What's even more promising is that five of those hits are doubles, indicating that Mejia is making hard contact in the early going. He's yet to go deep, but coming off a breakout 2016 season in which he hit 11 homers, it's clear he doesn't have to search for the fences to add offensive value. As for defensive value, Mejia has thrown out all three attempted basestealers who have crossed his path. These offensive and defensive rates aren't especially sustainable, since Double-A pitchers and baserunners will figure out how to test him over time, but no brakes have been applied to the Mejia hype train either.

Austin MeadowsThe story of the Pirates' offseason was about how they didn't end up trading Andrew McCutchen, meaning the organization's No. 2 prospect will have to stick in Triple-A a little longer. Those hoping Meadows would break down the door early will have to keep waiting as the outfielder has gone 1-for-21 (.048) in his first six games with Indianapolis. The most worrisome part of these struggles is Meadows' lack of contact -- he's struck out nine times in 24 plate appearances, or 37.5 percent of the time. MLB.com's No. 7 overall prospect already set a career high with a 23.4 percent strikeout rate over 37 games in Triple-A a season ago but hadn't posted a number higher than 18.2 percent at any full-season level before that. Based on his history, it's worth trusting that Meadows will figure out those issues. Even last season when he hit just .214 with a .757 OPS in the International League, that was hampered by a .236 BABIP. All this means is that the 2013 first-rounder, who only turns 22 on May 3, shouldn't be rushed based on his bat. Feel free to enjoy his range in center field in the meantime.

Video: Meadows' great catch for Indianapolis

Lucas GiolitoThis one is a bit more concerning. MLB.com's No. 9 overall prospect was pounded for five runs (four earned) on six hits while walking two, plunking three and fanning four over 4 1/3 innings in his White Sox organizational debut last Saturday for Charlotte. In other words, there were times when Giolito struggled to find the zone, but when he did, he proved to be hittable. It's easy to put results aside if the stuff is good, but based on the readings from BB&T Ballpark that night, his fastball stayed in the low-90s, a far cry from the triple digits he hit at times in the Nationals system. There's a reason why only one pitcher is featured in this column -- hurlers only get one chance to prove themselves in the first week and have to sit and wait to build on that. There's a chance Giolito needs to build up his velocity as the season progresses, but for a player who already saw his stuff slip in 2016, the 22-year-old right-hander's first outing provided more questions than answers.

J.P. Crawford: This spring Crawford said he had learned from his Triple-A struggles in 2016, when he hit .244 with a .647 OPS in 87 games for Lehigh Valley, and that he would stop "trying to hit .600" in order to force a big-league promotion. That may be true, but those lessons haven't played out at the plate just yet. Crawford has gone 3-for-24 (.125) over six games in his return to the IronPigs. Like Meadows, his inability to make consistent contact has made those numbers look worse with nine strikeouts in 25 plate appearances (36 percent). What's odd is that's never been a big issue for the shortstop, who has fanned at a 13.7 percent rate during his career Minor League career. Even when Crawford was struggling last season, his eye was still a redeeming quality. It's likely that'll return over a larger sample, and the regression on his .083 BABIP will eventually make his average more palatable, but for a player who could use a hot start, it's been anything but for MLB.com's No. 4 overall prospect.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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