We start with the hot corner in our weekly roundup of hot prospects.
Will Middlebrooks is all the rage in Red Sox nation currently, and deservedly so following his scorching start at Triple-A, and impressive debut in the majors (5-for-16, 1 HR, 4 RBI). Meanwhile, Diamondbacks third baseman Matt Davidson is off to a hot start at Double-A Mobile, hitting .306 with five homers and 17 RBI so far this season. He credits his work this offseason for his improvement, as he added strength and dedicated himself to coming in with improved focus. So far, the work has paid off, and he's looking more and more like a future big leaguer at the hot corner, after sharing the role with former first rounder Bobby Borchering his first few seasons in the organization. With Borchering moving to the outfield, the way has been paved for him to be the man in Arizona in the very near future.
BoSox farmhand Xander Bogaerts is doing his part to gain recognition, and may be an ever better prospect than Middlebrooks. Bogaerts has a strong understanding of the strike zone, and is continuing to show developing power at High-A (3 HR, 8 2B, 1 3B). While he's still a few years away, he has the potential to be elite.
The Pirates took the kid gloves off pitcher Jameson Taillon, and so far the results have been quite impressive: 30.2 IP, 1.76 ERA, 0 HR, 6 BB, 33 SO. The Pirates had Taillon throw primarily fastballs last season in order to improve his command of the pitch to all areas of the strike zone, and it seems to be paying off. His fastball, curveball, and slider all profile as plus pitches, while his changeup remains a work in progress. If he continues dominating High-A hitters, a promotion to Double-A could come quickly.
The pipeline of Royals prospects has been yielding vast riches in recent years and Wil Myers could be the next to make his debut for the franchise. Injuries hampered him in '11, but he appears to have rebounded nicely this year, hitting .336 with nine homers through the weekend. I'd like to see him cut his strikeout rate (29.1% K%), but with youth on his side, improvements in plate discipline are quite likely. He's one of the best outfield prospects in the minors and a name to have on your radar for later this season and, especially, 2013.
Is SS/3B Wilmer Flores finally getting things figured out? Mets fans certainly hope so, as they are being treated to the skills that made him such a highly regarded prospect when he originally burst on to the scene at 16 years old. His .296 average and four home runs have been positive, but it's the improvements in his strikeout rate that are most impressive, (12.2% in '11, 6.5% in '12) proof that there are gains being made in the contact department. He'll need to be tested by Double-A soon, at which point we'll see how real the progress he's made is.
When he was first drafted, Rockies pitcher Christian Friedrich was considered a top prospect (Ranked No. 95 in '09, No. 33 in '10 by Baseball America). Then disaster struck, as the young lefty endured two horrible years at Double-A Tulsa, which tainted his prospect status. He's bouncing back this year, and could be on the verge of a promotion to the majors, following a solid start at Triple-A (30 IP, 3.00 ERA, 1 HR, 4 BB, 27 SO). I just picked up some Friedrich stock in a 20-team dynasty format I play in, and he could soon be on the mixed league radar for players in standard formats.
The Cubs have a good problem on their hands, in the form of trying to fit first base prospect Anthony Rizzo and Bryan LaHair in the lineup at the same time at some point this summer. Rizzo has seven home runs already this season, and although he's slowed as of late in the power department, he's still hitting for average (.364) and continuing to make progress at the plate. He was hampered by strikeouts and poor contact during his first look at major league pitching, so the results of his encore are eagerly anticipated. Stash Rizzo for this year if your league's roster size allows it.
Mariners pitching prospect Danny Hultzen is one of the more polished lefties in the minors, and could be an impact arm later this summer for those in AL-only and deeper mixed formats. Despite struggling in his start this weekend (4.1 IP, 2 ER, 1 HR, 7 BB, 4 SO), he's been quite impressive this year (30.2 IP, 2.35 ERA, 1 HR, 19 BB, 34 SO), and is clearly on the fast track to the major leagues. Hultzen throws three plus pitches (fastball, slider, change). Add the advantages of being a lefty to that type of stuff and you have a nice complement to Felix Hernandez at the top of the Mariners rotation.
I leave you this week with two great scouting pieces on Trevor Bauer (here) and Tyler Skaggs (here) from Mike Newman over at Fangraphs, who I consider to be one of the web's top prospect guys. Which of these Diamondbacks pitchers do you prefer?
Rob Steingall is a syndicated fantasy analyst. Follow him on Twitter
Have a prospect question? A player you want to see covered? Send it to MinorDevelopments@yahoo.com