MLB Prospects: Five Hidden Gems You Should Know

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It may be the Year of the Prospect in Major League Baseball, but there are several under the radar prospects in the minor leagues that you should know.


The 2015 season has been an exciting one in terms of big-name, highly ranked prospects that have shot through the minor leagues and made a splash on the big league level. Players like Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Noah Syndergaard, Carlos Rodon, Archie Bradley, Joey Gallo, Francisco Lindor, Addison Russell, Matt Wisler, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton have all made their Major League debuts and we’ve only made it to the All-Star Break.

Simply put, 2015 has been the year of the prospect – particularly for those drafted in the first round or signed to big money deals as international free agents.

However, there are plenty of under-the-radar prospects that are in the process of making a name for themselves by putting up big numbers in 2015. We will explore a small number of those under the radar prospects today.

Throughout the minor leagues, you can find players drafted outside the top five rounds that are producing just as well, if not better, than the well-known players listed above. In fact, one of the players on our list wasn’t even drafted out of college. Others signed modest international free agent deals and have worked their way along the long hard road from the Dominican Summer League to the Arizona League and are now excelling in Double-A.

Will these five players make their big league debuts in 2015 like Bryant, Correa and Buxton? No. Will they be Top 100 prospects in 2016? Doubtful. But keep an eye on them because, much like they have already this season, they just might surprise you.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
1B

Ryan O'Hearn

1st Base, Kansas City Royals

Looking for an under the radar power-hitting prospect? Look no further than Royals left-handed slugger Ryan O’Hearn. An eighth round pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft from Sam Houston State, Hearn hit 13 home runs in just 64 games for Idaho Falls in 2014 while compiling an impressive .361/.444/.590 line with 90 hits, 39 walks 16 doubles a triple and 61 runs scored.

This season at Class-A Lexington, O’Hearn has belted 19 home runs – which currently leads all of Minor League Baseball. He’s striking out at a higher rate (24.1% this year compared to 20.1% in 2014) and walking at a lower rate (10.1% in 2015 compared to 13.3% with Idaho Falls last year), but has compiled a solid .277/.351/.494 slash while driving in 56 runs and scoring 44. And O’Hearn has been getting better as the season has progressed; over his last 16 games, he is hitting .345/.452/.517.

A 6-foot-3, 200-pound first baseman, O’Hearn has flashed a little bit of speed on the base paths as well: he has stolen ten bases in 14 attempts across his first two professional seasons to date.

You won’t find O’Hearn at the top of any top prospects lists. In fact, partly due to their stocked farm system and also because he was an eighth round draft pick, he isn’t even listed among the Royals’ top 30 by MLB.com. However, if O’Hearn has a 2015 second half that comes close to his production thus far, expect him to shoot up the rankings heading into the 2016 season.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
P

Tyler Mahle

Pitcher, Cincinnati Reds

Like Ryan O’Hearn, Tyler Mahle slipped out of the first six rounds of the First-Year Player Draft. The Cincinnati Reds snapped up the 6-foot-2, 175-pound right-hander in the seventh round in 2013 and succeeded in signing him away from a commitment to UC Santa Barbara, and he’s been solid if not spectacular on lowest rungs of the club’s minor league ladder.

Mahle won’t wow many scouts. He’s currently ranked 27th among Reds prospects by MLB.com. He doesn’t have a dominating fastball or devastating off-speed pitch, but Mahle has consistently gotten hitters out.

In 27 games combined between the Arizona League (2013) and Rookie League Billings (2014), Mahle entered the season with a 3.41 ERA with 101 strikeouts and 23 walks in 111 innings and had held opponents to a .255 batting average.

Just 20 years old, Mahle has excelled in his third professional season. Pitching for Class-A Dayton this year, Mahle is currently 9-5 with a 2.78 ERA in 97 innings across 17 appearances (16 starts). Without flashy stuff, Mahle has held opponents to a .254 batting average this season and racked up 92 strikeouts at a career best rate of 23.1% against 13 walks, which at 3.3% is his best walk rate yet.

Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

C

Willson Contreras

Catcher, Chicago Cubs

Completely overshadowed this season by his first-half teammate and fellow catcher Kyle Schwarber (as well as the rest of the best farm system in Major League Baseball), Willson Contreras has put up terrific offensive numbers this year for the Tennessee Smokies, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.

He’s also been working to refine his raw talent behind the plate. As Cubs’ field and catching coordinator Tim Cossins told the Chicago Tribune in June:

“The talent has been there since Day 1,” Cossins said. “He was one of the guys I heard about before coming over (from the Marlins’ organization in 2013). He is a guy who’s really tooled up but in the converting stages and very raw. We’re at a point now where he has contained all his abilities and put it in a nice package and is starting to think the game.

“With all the physical stuff he has been able to improve on and get deeper into what the position is, he has been unbelievable.”

In 75 games, primarily behind the plate or as the designated hitter (in addition to a handful of starts at his natural third base), Contreras has compiled a .322/.398/.485 slash with 20 doubles, four triples, five home runs, 40 RBI and 41 runs scored. Those numbers are well ahead of the pace of any of his previous professional seasons, thanks largely to a 10% walk rate and 12.7% strikeout, both of which are his best since his 17-game Arizona League debut in 2010.

A native of Venezuela, Contreras is 23 years old and is in his fifth season of domestic pro baseball. He’s not considered a top prospect by any stretch, but he has the skillset to help the Cubs in the future, either on the field or through a trade.

Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

SS

Marco Hernandez

Shortstop, Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox are stacked with middle infield prospects, so it’s understandable if Marco Hernandez has been overlooked this season. Also, what a testament it is to the farm system the Chicago Cubs have built that we haven’t heard much about Hernandez to date. Still, the player named in December as the last piece in the deal that send Felix Doubront to Chicago has excelled in his new surroundings.

A .281/.319/.390 hitter to this point in his six-year minor league career, the 22-year old has put together a much improved .327/.351/.486 slash in 67 games at Double-A Portland. Hernandez has 21 doubles, four triples, five home runs and 31 RBI to date through 68 games. The left-handed hitting shortstop also has good speed, as evidenced by three previous seasons of 21 stolen bases or more, but has swiped just four bags in six attempts in 2015.

Hernandez has been the primary leadoff hitter for the Sea Dogs this year, and has set the table very well with a sparkling .380/.392/.580 mark in the first inning of games this season. He still has a lot of work to do to improve his 3.3% walk rate – meaning he’s earn just nine free passes in 393 plate appearances this season – but his production is a great sign nonetheless.

P

Eric Ruth

Pitcher, New York Yankees

Last but not least on our list of five under the radar prospects you should know is 24-year old New York Yankees pitcher Eric Ruth.

Ruth is a unique case in that he was an undrafted free agent signee in 2013 with a high 80s/low 90s fastball, yet struck out an eye-popping 41.2% of the hitters he faced and posted a 0.75 ERA across 24 innings in the Gulf Coast League in his pro debut season. Those outstanding numbers earned him a late season promotion to High Class-A Tampa, where he allowed three base runners in 5.1 innings.

In 2014, Ruth pitched at four different levels in the Yankees system and posted a solid 3.67 ERA with 90 K’s and allowed 84 hits in 88.1 innings, most of which came out of the bullpen.

Now a starter, Ruth has been dominant in 2015. He made quick work of a return trip to Tampa before being promoted to Double-A Trenton. In 13 appearances for the Thunder, including 12 starts, Ruth has a 6-2 record with a 1.89 ERA. He’s only recorded 50 strikeouts in 76 innings, but has allowed only 59 hits thus far.

The right-handed Ruth excelled against left-handed hitters in Tampa this year and held them to a .189/.231/.297 line in 39 plate appearances. Lefties are hitting slightly better against Ruth in Double-A, but not much: .219/.307/.342, and the 24-year old has held right-handed hitters to a measly .203/.257/.278.

Ruth must really like the city of Trenton itself. In six appearances at home, including five starts, Ruth is 4-0 with a 0.48 ERA and has held opponents to a .172 batting average. Of course, if he keeps pitching like he has thus far, Eric Ruth won’t be in Trenton much longer.