Toolshed: The All-Decade Prospect Team

Picking the players who stood out as Minor Leaguers in 2010s

Mike Trout vs. Bryce Harper made for a fun prospect debate in the earlier part of the 2010s. (Paul R. Gierhart, Will Bentzel/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | December 20, 2019 10:00 AM

The year 2020 is right around the corner and that means many across the globe are looking introspectively to see how they have changed in the last decade. Not many measure their growth over the years more than Minor League Baseball players climbing toward the game's biggest stage.

To honor those who have made the journey or are still on their way from 2010 through 2019, this edition of the Toolshed selects the All-Decade Prospect Team.

The rubric is pretty simple. How did these players stand out as prospects? In other words, the players' Major League success or lack thereof did not factor into the picks. These were the most hyped players at each position over the past 10 years of Minor League Baseball.

Catcher -- Adley Rutschman, Orioles: This is a coin flip between Baltimore's hopeful franchise cornerstone and long-time Giants backstop Buster Posey. But what tips Rutschman over the line is the important definition of prospect. By the start of the decade, Posey already had seven games of Major League experience, having debuted in September 2009, and was back in The Show two months into the 2010s. Rutschman's time in the Minors during the decade was similarly short -- he played 37 games across three levels last season -- but he also has the higher Draft status to rely on here. The former Oregon State star was the first catcher to be taken first overall since Joe Mauer in 2001. He ended 2019 as MLB.com's No. 6 overall prospect with four 60s on his scouting reports for his hit, power, arm and fielding tools. Posey may have been the Major League catcher of the 2010s -- his 53.0 fWAR was tops among players at the position -- but the switch-hitting Rutschman has the potential to take over that mantle for the 2020s and possibly beyond.

Honorable mentions (in no particular order): Posey, Jesus Montero, Gary Sanchez, Travis d'Arnaud, Mike Zunino, Francisco Mejia

First baseman -- Cody Bellinger, Dodgers: First-base prospects have a higher burden of proof to feature highly in rankings. If a player is going to only play first base, then he will really, really have to show he can hit to squeeze enough value out of a position the traditional bashers have called home. Also if a player is limited to first base early in his career, he might not be athletic enough to stand out against his peers in other areas as well. And yet Bellinger -- a fourth-round pick in 2013 -- ticked all the right boxes before his debut in 2017. He slugged .503 and produced an .855 OPS over parts of his five seasons in the Minors. He combined to hit 56 homers in 2015 and 2016 while playing at the top three levels of the Minors. His defensive work was so good at first base that many predicted he could win Gold Gloves at the position. The Dodgers agreed about Bellinger's overall athleticism, making him into more of a full-time outfielder this season. He actually won the Gold Glove in right field and a National League MVP award to boot. There were first-base prospects that appeared in Top 100s for longer than Bellinger did, but none had the overall resume or skill set by the time he graduated in 2017.

Honorable mentions: Anthony Rizzo, Jon Singleton, Justin Smoak, Josh Bell, Eric Hosmer, Freddie Freeman


Yoan Moncada batted .278 with 49 steals at Class A in 2015. (Gwinn Davis/Greenville Drive)

Second baseman -- Yoan Moncada, Red Sox/White Sox: A $63-million investment ($31.5 million for the signing bonus, $31.5 million for the overage penalty) brings a lot of hype. Moncada was seen as worth it during his days in the Boston system because of his potential to show a plus bat as a switch-hitter along with above-average power and plus speed -- skills that made him the No. 1 overall prospect at the end of the 2016 season. After a strong campaign that year in which he hit 15 homers and stole 45 bases in the Minors (but struck out 12 times in 19 Major League at-bats), the Cuba native was dealt to the White Sox for All-Star left-hander Chris Sale, who eventually closed out a World Series for Boston. Moncada's issues with contact hurt his initial showing in the Majors before a breakout 2019 saw him put together a .915 OPS. Defensively, Moncada was a second baseman because of some limitations, but a strong arm has allowed him to move over to third as a Major Leaguer.

Honorable mentions: Keston Hiura, Ozzie Albies, Mookie Betts, Kolten Wong, Dustin Ackley

Third baseman -- Kris Bryant, Cubs: Yes, there is a major more-recent third-base prospect who should fit here, but he'll move in later. In any event, Bryant was the more well-rounded prospect, given the fewer questions he faced for his defense. The bat was never in question for the 2013 second overall pick. Bryant's 43 homers between Double-A and Triple-A were most in the Minors in 2014 ... during his first full season. He currently sports a .325/.424/.661 career line with 56 total roundtrippers in 187 career games in the Minor Leagues. The right-handed slugger's delay at Triple-A Iowa was very brief in 2015 before he made his much-anticipated debut in Chicago that April 17, only to win NL Rookie of the Year honors that year and the MVP award the season after. Bryant's value may have cooled some in the past two years, but don't forget just how hyped the former No. 2 overall prospect was during his quick ascent to Wrigleyville.

Honorable mentions: Nick Senzel, Rafael Devers, Joey Gallo, Miguel Sano, Mike Moustakas, Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon

Shortstop -- Francisco Lindor, Indians: This was by far the toughest category to make a selection because of how loaded it could have been. But among those on the short list, Lindor was the only to appear on four preseason Top-100 lists and it's that staying power, which can be difficult before prospect fatigue sets in, that gives the Cleveland infielder the nod here. Four years after he was taken eighth overall in the 2011 Draft, Lindor topped out at No. 4 heading into the 2015 season, when he eventually made his Major League debut. To the surprise of no one who has seen him in the Majors, Lindor drew raves for his defensive work at the premium position, and his speed was considered plus throughout his time in the Minors. A switch-hitter, the Puerto Rico native was known more offensively for being a line-drive hitter with good strike-zone discipline, even posting a 46/49 K/BB ratio while hitting .303 between Class A Advanced and Double-A in 2012. Power was always the biggest demerit on Lindor's ledger-- his Minor League home run high was 11 -- but even then, he has become a modern slugger with back-to-back-to-back 30-homer seasons in the big leagues.

Honorable mentions: Jurickson Profar, Fernando Tatis Jr., Dansby Swanson, Gleyber Torres, Wander Franco, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Manny Machado, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Xander Bogaerts

Designated hitter -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays: All right, this is the spot for the other third-base prospect. No one ever questioned Guerrero's bat during his time in the Minors to the point where MLB.com gave him an 80-grade hit tool projection going into the 2019 season. The mighty right-handed slugger's most famed season was 2018, when he chased .400 for much of the year only to finish with a .381/.437/.636 line, 20 homers and a 38/37 K/BB ratio over 95 games, most of which were at Double-A and Triple-A. Guerrero finished with a career .331 average and more walks (151) than strikeouts (139) during four seasons in the Minor Leagues. His Major League numbers weren't nearly up to snuff, but they served as an important reminder that the son of a Hall of Famer was still playing the game's top level at age 20. Outside of perhaps the next two names on this list, no Minor League prospect's at-bats were more must-watch material than Guerrero's this decade.

Video: Top Jays prospect Guerrero hits first MWL blast

Outfielders 

Bryce Harper, Nationals: It's difficult to overstate the hype Harper entered pro ball with when he went first overall in the 2010 Draft and signed a five-year Major League deal as a 17-year-old. This was a left-handed slugger who got his GED early so he could play in a wood-bat junior college league and showed enough prodigious power to land a Sports Illustrated cover before going pro. The Nationals even thought enough of the then-teenager to send him to the Arizona Fall League months after drafting him. Harper's time in the Minors was short but effective. He batted .297/.392/.501 with 17 homers between Class A and Double-A at age 18 in 2011 and played only 21 games at Triple-A the following season before ascending to Washington. A former catcher in Nevada, Harper made the transition to right field look seamless, showing a plus-plus arm from the grass. There was a legitimate debate between who would be the better outfielder in the long term between Harper and the next player here once they showed their abilities in the Minors. But among position players, no one entered pro ball with more excitement attached to him than the 2010 top pick.

Mike Trout, Angels: Start where everybody else starts. Trout was picked 25th overall in the 2009 Draft, meaning he was passed over 24 times including twice by the D-backs and once by his own club in the Angels (who took Randal Grichuk 24th). There were several reasons for that, namely that some bad weather for those scouting New Jersey high-school ball made it difficult to get live looks at the Millville Meteor. But it didn't take long for Trout to show he could be a future star. He hit .352 with 13 stolen bases over 44 games, mostly in the Rookie-level Arizona League, in his Draft season and put together a .341/.428/.490 line with 10 homers and 56 thefts between Class A and Class A Advanced the following year in 2010. As he gained experience, Trout showed true five-tool potential, including top-of-the-line speed, promising pop and plus defensive skills in center field. A rough Major League debut in 2011 (.600 OPS in 40 games) hurt his prospect stock only slightly, but there's no doubt the three-time AL MVP is the top-prospect success story of the decade.


Byron Buxton hit .341 with 32 steals at Class A Cedar Rapids in 2013 (Paul Gierhart/MiLB.com)

Byron Buxton, Twins: Only one player entered two different seasons this decade as the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com. That was Buxton, who took the top spot going into the 2014 and 2015 campaigns. The second overall pick in the 2012 Draft has always been known for his top-of-the-line speed and defensive ability in center field, but he showed early promise with the bat as well. Buxton batted .334/.424/.520 with 49 extra-base hits and 55 steals between Class A and Class A Advanced in his first full season in 2013. A wrist injury caused him to miss most of 2014, but his tools were so loud that he still owned the top-prospect spot going into the next season -- above Bryant, Correa and Lindor. Buxton still sports a career .299/.375/.500 line over 365 career games in the Minors. Unfortunately, injuries and hitting concerns have kept the Georgia native from hitting his ceiling in the Majors so far at age 26, but even now, his baserunning and fielding provide enough value to make him a regular (when healthy) for a contending Minnesota club.

Honorable mentions: Jason Heyward, Andrew Benintendi, Ronald Acuña Jr., Victor Robles, Eloy Jimenez, Oscar Taveras, Domonic Brown, Desmond Jennings, Jo Adell, Luis Robert

Right-handed pitcher -- Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: Before there was Harper, there was Strasburg. (Luckily for Nats fans, there is still Strasburg as well.) The Nationals made the San Diego State right-hander their first first overall pick in 2009 and for good reason. Strasburg's starts in his final season on campus were must-watch stuff as he finished with a 1.32 ERA, 195 strikeouts and 19 walks in 109 innings as an Aztec junior. His fastball and curve drew plus-plus grades while his changeup was considered at least plus. Making the arsenal even more legendary was the special control the California native showed throughout his collegiate years. Like Harper, Strasburg signed a Major League deal to enter the pros and barely qualifies for this list, considering he made 11 starts at Double-A and Triple-A before making entering The Show on June 8, 2010. (He fanned 14 over seven innings in that debut, by the way.) That said, no pitcher was seen as a franchise cornerstone as quickly as Strasburg was the second he signed on the dotted line. (His Tommy John surgery in late 2010 also served as a reminder of the danger of putting too much hope into pitching prospects alone.)

Honorable mentions: Julio Teheran, Gerrit Cole, Jose Fernandez , Jameson Taillon, Archie Bradley, Taijuan Walker, Noah Syndergaard, Lucas Giolito, Tyler Glasnow, Michael Kopech, Forrest Whitley

Offseason MiLB include

Left-handed pitcher -- Matt Moore, Rays: Heading into 2012, Trout was ranked the No. 3 overall prospect. Harper placed second. Moore was above both of them in the No. 1 spot. An eighth-round pick in 2007 out of a New Mexico high school, Moore was an even better riser than Trout during his early years in the Tampa Bay system. The 6-foot-3 southpaw eclipsed the 200-strikeout mark in the 2010 and 2011 seasons. The latter was what vaulted him into the No. 1 overall prospect discussion. That year, Moore posted a 1.92 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP while fanning 210 in 155 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He was brought up for his Major League debut in September and even started Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Rangers, tossing seven frames in a 9-0 win on the road. Beyond the results, Moore showed promising stuff with a mid-90s fastball, plus-plus curve and plus changeup. His handedness didn't hurt his prospect stock either at a time when right-handed pitching prospects were much more plentiful. It's not breaking news to say Moore never hit his ceiling. He was an All-Star in 2013, missed almost all of 2014 with Tommy John surgery and hasn't quite found the same level of success since, having played for the Giants, Rangers and Tigers since moving from Tampa Bay in an August 2016 trade. Discounting two-way star Shohei Ohtani, Moore was the last full-time pitcher to sit at No. 1 in the preseason prospect rankings.

Honorable mentions: Danny Hultzen, Tyler Skaggs, Julio Urias, Blake Snell, MacKenzie Gore, Brian Matusz, Aroldis Chapman

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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