A look back at the game's greats as promising prospects
By Doug Miller
It might not yet be baseball season, but it's always baseball prospect season.
And given that Friday marks the much-anticipated release of MLB Pipeline's preseason Top 100 Prospects list -- and you can watch the reveal on MLB Network and MLB.com at 9 p.m. ET -- it seems like a perfect Throwback Thursday to turn back the clock and check on how some of the game's current greats were rated prior to achieving big league stardom.
In the cases of this super six, well, it wasn't particularly difficult to project performance, even in one of the most difficult sports around.
"The star players are the ones that tend to make those of us who do what I do look smart," said MLB.com senior writer Jonathan Mayo, who, along with Jim Callis, prepares the annual Top Prospect lists for MLB.com.
"Occasionally we under-rank them, but by and large, the Manny Machados and the Bryce Harpers of the world turn into exactly what we think and what scouts think they should be. Of course, it doesn't always work out that way."
With that, here we go:
Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs: Bryant won the Golden Spikes Award as the best player in college while at the University of San Diego, was drafted No. 2 overall by Chicago in 2013, and won the MVP Award in the Arizona Fall League that year. Then he hit 43 homers in his 2014 Minor League season, 21 of them at the Triple-A level. With that on his resume, a No. 2 ranking on MLB.com's 2015 preseason list was no surprise.
"Bryant has everything needed to lead the Majors in homers at some point: size, strength, bat speed and loft in his swing, plus the willingness to work counts to find a pitch he can punish," the MLB.com scouting report read. "He doesn't sell out for power, instead letting it come naturally, and he can drive the ball out of the park to the opposite field as well as anyone."
Bryant arrived in Chicago on April 17, 2015, and by the end of his first year in the bigs, he had posted a .275/.369/.488 slash line with 26 homers, 99 RBIs and a league-high 199 strikeouts en route to unanimous honors as the National League Rookie of the Year Award winner.
Carlos Correa, SS, Astros: The No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 Draft was No. 3 on MLB.com's preseason list in 2015, the year of his much-ballyhooed big league debut at the age of 20. Correa, of course, would go on to win American League Rookie of the Year Award and put on an eye-opening power display in October that makes him one of the most exciting players in the game.
MLB.com's prospect list had it nailed: "Though Correa is still physically maturing, he already has above-average power. Correa has a balanced swing, and he has a good approach at the plate. ... Correa has a strong arm, soft hands and good defensive instincts, all of which could help him stay at shortstop. Some scouts feel he will outgrow the position, but so far, he has shown he can handle shortstop."
Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles: Machado has matured into a perennial Gold Glove and AL MVP Award candidate at third base for Baltimore, despite severe injuries to each knee (left in 2013, right in '14) that have hampered his big league career. He was ranked the No. 10 overall prospect as a shortstop by MLB.com at the end of 2011 and made his Major League debut on Aug. 9, 2012.
The MLB.com scouting report for Machado was dead on regarding his eventual position change from shortstop to third base, although his power potential might have been slightly underestimated. "He may never have [Alex] Rodriguez-type power," the report read, "but he should hit for average and at least some pop."
Machado's 35 homers last year in his age-22 season indicate that he has more than "some pop." Then again, the MLB.com upside potential comment from 2011 said it all: "An All-Star-caliber performer at either short or third."
No doubt about that.
Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals: This one has always been a no-brainer. Harper was the first overall pick in the 2010 Draft as a 17-year-old and the No. 2 prospect according to the MLB.com at the conclusion of the 2011 season.
Harper debuted in the Majors on April 28, 2012, developed quickly despite some injuries, and just finished off one of the most dominant statistical seasons for a hitter his age in baseball history, winning the NL MVP Award in unanimous fashion.
"It's hard to imagine anyone living up to the hype Harper has received, but he just might do it," the MLB.com scouting report read. "He has every chance to be a superstar right fielder who hits in the middle of lineups for a long, long time."
Buster Posey, C, Giants: Posey was billed as the No. 4 prospect on the 2010 preseason list after making his debut the previous September. It's hard to believe in retrospect, but San Francisco wasn't sold on him beginning the 2010 season with the big club, and signed Bengie Molina that January to be its Opening Day catcher.
"Even if he has to wait a year, there is little question Posey has the potential to become one of the elite, all-around catchers in the game," said the MLB.com scouting report.
Posey banged down the Major League door by hitting .349 in 47 Triple-A games. He then went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award while helping the Giants win their first of three World Series over the next five seasons, winning an NL MVP Award along the way.
Max Scherzer, RHP, Nationals: The No. 11 overall pick in the 2006 Draft was ranked 35th on the MLB.com prospect list in 2008, in part because he didn't necessarily project into the future Cy Young Award-winning starter that he'd become. (He also helps illustrate that even the best prospect prognosticators will sell some guys short.)
"With his plus power stuff and maximum-effort delivery, some have seen him as a short-relief type for some time," the MLB.com scouting report read. "If the D-backs decide that's his role, he could reach the big leagues early in 2008."
Scherzer made his Major League debut on April 29, 2008, and appeared in 16 games that season -- seven times as a starter. He became a full-time starter the following year and blossomed after the huge three-team, seven-player trade in December 2009 that landed him in Detroit.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.