The Boston Red Sox lead Yahoo Sports' all-minor league team with a whopping eight players, three more than the runner-up Chicago Cubs and twice as many as the New York Mets, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers.
While the Red Sox's frontline talent doesn't approach the Cubs', their organizational depth is the envy of baseball and could play a vital role in a potential offseason splash. The draft-and-develop philosophy of general manager Ben Cherington continues the M.O. of his predecessor, Theo Epstein, who has stocked the Cubs with a number of impact players, including Kris Bryant, the Minor League Player of the Year.
Tyler Glasnow, the 6-foot-7 right-hander stolen by Pittsburgh in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, is the Minor League Pitcher of the Year, one of three Pirates on the team. It leans prospect-heavy, though an emphasis on production in 2014 leaves some of the game's top prospects – whether because of injury (Minnesota center fielder Byron Buxton, Houston shortstop Carlos Correa) or underperformance (Arizona starter Archie Bradley, Cincinnati starter Robert Stephenson) – out of the running.
Twenty-seven teams are represented. (Sorry, Miami, San Francisco and Tampa Bay.) Ten of them (Atlanta, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, San Diego, St. Louis, Baltimore, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland) have just one player. And none was close to as good as the runaway winner for this season's top honor.
Player of the Year: Kris Bryant, 3B (AAA/AA, Chicago Cubs) – During the offseason, as Jose Abreu signed for nearly 10 times what Bryant received as the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft, the question was posed to scouts and executives: Abreu or Bryant? Most said Bryant. Which, on one hand, shows what a fantastic surprise Abreu has been. And, on the other, speaks to the universal respect given Bryant, who put up numbers even better than Abreu's. His 43 home runs led the minor leagues. His .325/.438/.661 slash line wrecked the wills of many a pitcher. He still swings and misses too much (162 strikeouts), but he could whiff 200 times in the big leagues and the power would still play. He'll hit third for the Cubs for a long time, the heart of a lineup filled with potential stars.
Pitcher of the Year: Tyler Glasnow, SP (A+, Pittsburgh Pirates) – In 11 of his 23 starts this season, Glasnow allowed no runs. In 17 of them, he yielded two or fewer. His 1.74 ERA was the best for a starter in the minors. Over the last two seasons, with a limited workload, Glasnow has thrown 235 2/3 innings, struck out 321, allowed an almost-inconceivable 128 hits and just 12 home runs. He still has problems with control, which is fine. When your fastball hits 100 and comes from an impossible angle, the rest can take time, particularly considering Glasnow just turned 21. The Pirates are going to unleash him on Double-A next year, and when he refines his curveball and changeup – and it's really a matter of when – he'll challenge for the title of best pitching prospect in baseball.
Catcher of the Year: Clint Coulter (A, Milwaukee) – This is a bit of a cheat. Coulter spent half his games at catcher and the other half at DH. Milwaukee may find another position for him, unless it wants to go all Evan Gattis on him, which is certainly a possibility. Because Coulter's bat (.287/.410/.520) more than plays, and his toughness – he won the 189-pound wrestling state title in Washington's second-biggest class in 2010 – rightfully enamors the Brewers.
Honorable mention: Jorge Alfaro (AA/A+, Texas), Kevin Plawecki (AAA/AA, New York Mets), Kyle Schwarber (A+/A, Chicago Cubs), Blake Swihart (AAA/AA, Boston)
First Baseman of the Year: Matt Olson (A+, Oakland) – Normally a position of fringe prospects, Olson is a legitimate major leaguer whose emergence allowed Oakland to part with Addison Russell and Billy McKinney in the Jeff Samardzija trade. Yes, the Cal League makes every hitter feel like Babe Ruth, so Olson's 37 home runs deserve an asterisk. The 117 walks do not. They were the most in the minor leagues by 17, and as Olson graduates to Double-A at just 20, he's in a good position to join the A's sooner than later.
Honorable mention: Jordy Lara (AA/A+, Seattle), Rangel Ravelo (AA, Chicago White Sox), Kennys Vargas (AA, Minnesota), Christian Walker (AAA/AA, Baltimore)
Second Baseman of the Year: Wilmer Difo (A, Washington) – Pop-up alert! Difo, 22, spent the first three seasons of his career kicking around in rookie ball until he split time among four levels last year. This year he hung with Hagerstown and won South Atlantic League MVP honors with surprising pop (14 home runs), game-changing speed (49 of 58 on stolen bases) and enough of a glove to give the Nationals a new second baseman by mid-2016.
Honorable mention: Carlos Asuaje (A+/A, Boston), Sean Coyle (AA, Boston), Tony Kemp (AA/A+, Houston), Jose Peraza (AA/A+, Atlanta)
Shortstop of the Year: Corey Seager (AA/A+, Los Angeles Dodgers) – Even if he does end up at third base like brother Kyle, Seager's bat will more than hold its own. His left-handed swing is far sweeter than big bro, who's one of the most underrated hitters in the major leagues, and Corey's .349/.402/.602 line as a 20-year-old entrenched him among the top 10 prospects in the game.
Honorable mention: J.P. Crawford (A+/A, Philadelphia), JaCoby Jones (A, Pittsburgh), Francisco Lindor (AAA/AA, Cleveland), Addison Russell (AA/A+, Chicago Cubs)
Third Baseman of the Year: Joey Gallo (AA/A+, Texas Rangers) – Gallo spent most of the season neck and neck with fellow Las Vegan Bryant for the home run crown and lost by one. The only question with Gallo is his strikeout issues, which his promotion to Double-A exacerbated. He whiffed 115 times in 250 at-bats. His .430 batting average on balls in play shows the 20-year-old Gallo hits the ball hard, yes, but that won't be enough against the superior pitching in the major leagues. As much as everyone wants to gawk at his power in the big leagues, he needs another year at least, maybe more, to show he can be more than Russell Branyan 2.0.
Honorable mention: Jake Lamb (AAA/AA, Arizona), Ryan McMahon (A, Colorado), D.J. Peterson (AA/A+, Seattle), Giovanny Urshela (AAA/AA, Cleveland)
Outfielders of the Year
OF: Michael Taylor (AAA/AA, Washington)
OF: Mookie Betts (AAA/AA, Boston)
All three are in the big leagues now, and all three represent the finest aspects of baseball: power, speed, patience and fielding. Pederson, 22, is the best of the bunch today, a 33-homer, 30-stolen base, 100-walk monster at Triple-A Albuquerque who should be center fielder for the Dodgers next season if GM Ned Colletti can rid himself of his festering outfield logjam.
Taylor, 23, was a disappointment for his first four minor league seasons until the tools translated into skills this season. At a lean-and-powerful 6-3, 210 pounds, he patrols center field with aplomb and should be a base-stealing threat who hits at least 15 home runs and gets on base 35 percent of the time. Better yet: He'll hit in front of Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon for years to come.
The Red Sox uncluttered some of their second-base gridlock by shifting Betts to the outfield. He moved quickly, overtook Jackie Bradley Jr. in the hearts and minds of Red Sox brass and, depending on where Rusney Castillo ends up, could play center field or right field. Betts is a sparkplug sort, more powerful than his 5-9 frame suggests, just as speedy as his athletic build does. Best yet, he was a complete thievery by Red Sox scouts: Like Glasnow, Betts was chosen in the fifth round of the 2011 draft.
Honorable mention: Josh Bell (AA/A+, Pittsburgh), Gabby Guerrero (A+, Seattle), Teoscar Hernandez (AA/A+, Houston), Aaron Judge (A+/A, New York Yankees), Manuel Margot (A+/A, Boston), Nomar Mazara (AA/A, Texas), Steven Moya (AA, Detroit), Dalton Pompey (AAA/AA/A+, Toronto), Domingo Santana (AAA, Houston), Mallex Smith (A+/A, San Diego), Jorge Soler (AAA/AA/Rookie, Chicago Cubs), Raimel Tapia (A, Colorado)
Pitchers of the Year
SP: Henry Owens (AAA/AA, Boston)
SP: Daniel Norris (AAA/AA/A+, Toronto)
SP: Lucas Giolito (A, Washington)
SP: Luis Severino (AA/A+/A, New York Yankees)
SP: Brian Johnson (AA/A+, Boston)
Owens and Johnson could join the parade of young arms at Fenway Park next season, as the former has little left to prove in the minor leagues and the latter aced his Double-A test. Johnson's velocity sits plus for a left-hander and touches plus-plus, and with his 24th birthday in December, Johnson will be fast-tracked. Owens is still just 22, and he's still got room to grow into his 6-6 frame and velocity to add, which makes his 170 strikeouts in 159 innings this season that much scarier.
Norris tossed a perfect third of an inning in his major league debut this week, freezing David Ortiz on a third-strike curveball. With the left-handed bender and a mid-90s fastball, Norris is a potential frontline starter, a testament to the Blue Jays' player-development system and their willingness to push, push, push guys. (See Dalton Pompey above and Kendall Graveman below). Norris will be 21 next opening day, and a future rotation with him, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez gives Toronto plenty of reason for hope.
Most executives consider Giolito the best pitching prospect in the minor leagues, a combination of already-here talent and crazy projection. In his first full season, he put up a 2.20 ERA over 20 starts, struck out 110 in 98 innings and showed why he was the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft until an elbow issue eventually forced Tommy John surgery. The Nationals stole him at No. 16, nursed him back to health, giggled at his huge fastball and time-and-space-bending curveball, and have him penciled in for a mid-2016 debut.
The Yankees signed Severino for $225,000, a pittance compared to some of their million-dollar Latin American spending sprees, and he's easily the best of the bunch, a multi-level jumper whose high-90s fastball and control landed him at Double-A with a 2.46 ERA over three stops. The Yankees don't want to rush the 20-year-old Severino, not with Manny Banuelos' history. The two are different, certainly, Severino skinnier and harder-throwing, but both were shorter-than-preferred, polished sorts, and compared to most, New York takes excessive caution.
Honorable mention: Tyler Anderson (AA, Colorado), Jose Berrios (AAA/AA/A+, Minnesota), Christian Binford (AAA/AA/A+, Kansas City), Marco Gonzales (AAA/AA/A+, St. Louis), Kendall Graveman (AAA/AA/A+/A, Toronto), Josh Hader (AA/A+, Houston), Austin Kubitza (A, Detroit), Ben Lively (AA/A+, Cincinnati), Jaron Long (AA/A+, New York Yankees), Steven Matz (AA/A+, New York Mets), Anthony Ranaudo (AAA, Boston), Ranger Suarez (Rookie, Philadelphia), Julio Urias (A+, Los Angeles Dodgers), Kevin Ziomek (A, Detroit)
Closer: Akeel Morris (A, New York Mets) – One of a number of powerful Mets arms, the 21-year-old Morris struck out 89 in 57 innings and allowed just 19 hits. Opponents batted .103 off Morris, a 10th-round pick out of the Virgin Islands whose funky delivery – he throws almost completely over the top, like Josh Collmenter with a lean – hides the ball exceedingly well and makes his 95-mph fastball look like much more.
Honorable mention: Cam Bedrosian (AAA/AA/A+, Los Angeles Angels), Silvino Bracho (A, Arizona), Kevin Canelon (Rookie, New York Mets), Phil Klein (AAA/AA, Texas), Armando Rivero (AAA/AA, Chicago Cubs)