The League Championship Series monopolizes the baseball attention these days, as the World Series surely will beginning next week. But at MLBPipeline.com, we have our eye on the future as well as the present.
We're a week into the Arizona Fall League season, where two of the hottest hitters are the Cubs' past two first-round Draft picks. Outfielder Albert Almora is 8-for-14 (.571) with five extra-base hits and eight RBIs in just three games, while third baseman Kris Bryant is one of four AFL players with multiple homers.
Have a question about prospects?
E-mail your query to MLBPipeline.com reporters Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
Next week, I'll report from the World Wood Bat Association World Championship in Jupiter, Fla. Dozens of top high school prospects for the 2014 First-Year Player Draft will show their stuff in the last major showcase event of the year.
Several readers also are wondering about tomorrow as well as today, as shown by the questions below. Let's get to them ...
How do Cubs shortstop Javier Baez's Minor League stats compare to Manny Ramirez's?
-- Tim R., Orlando, Fla.
Baez has played two full seasons in the Minors, which is exactly the amount of experience Ramirez had before cracking the Indians' lineup in September 1993.
At that point, Ramirez had hit .316/.408/.595 in 269 pro games. By comparison, Baez has batted .286/.342/.562 in 215 contests. (The difference in games played comes from Ramirez getting in a full season in Rookie ball in 1991 after he signed quickly as the 13th overall pick in the 1991 Draft, while Baez got into just five games after signing late as the ninth overall selection in 2011.)
The two displayed comparable power, which bodes well for Baez considering that Ramirez bashed 555 homers in the Majors. Also, Baez is six months younger than Ramirez was at the same stage and offers more positional value as a shortstop (or maybe a third baseman) compared to a lackluster corner outfielder.
The biggest difference between the two is that Ramirez had a more polished approach at the plate. His batting average was 30 points higher than that of the free-swinging Baez, and Ramirez's on-base percentage was 66 points higher. Ramirez had 218 strikeouts and 151 walks in 1,175 plate appearances, a markedly superior K-BB ratio to Baez's 220-54 in 916 plate appearances.
Baez swings at everything, yet shows a propensity for making consistent hard contact. He led the Minors this year with 75 extra-base hits and 37 homers, and he's on course to making his Wrigley Field debut at some point in 2014.
Who has the brighter future, Chris Archer or Yordano Ventura?
-- Dan T., Davis, Calif.
Ventura turned heads by uncorking a 102-mph fastball in his big league debut in September, but Archer has a greater chance of succeeding as a long-term starter. He has a better breaking ball, better command and a better body.
While Ventura has more fastball velocity and regularly works in the upper 90s, Archer has plenty of fastball with a mid-90s heater. Archer's hard slider gives him a second out pitch and grades better than Ventura's improving curveball. Archer also does a better job of locating his pitches, and his 6-foot-3, 200-pound build lends itself to durability more than Ventura's 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame.
What kind of progress has Royals shortstop Raul "Adalberto" Mondesi made? What's the time frame for his Major League debut?
-- Chris B., Latrobe, Pa.
Considering he was the second-youngest regular in low Class A this season at age 17 and hadn't played above Rookie ball previously, Mondesi had an outstanding season. He batted .261/.311/.361 with 27 extra-base hits and 24 steals, but more impressive than his numbers were his tools and ability to hold his own despite his inexperience.
The son of former All-Star Raul Mondesi, he signed for $2 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2011 and has the physical ability to become the Royals' first All-Star shortstop since Kurt Stillwell in 1988. Mondesi is a switch-hitter who should hit for a solid average and perhaps average power once he matures physically, and he has the range and arm to make all the plays at shortstop.
Between outfielder D.J. Davis, right-hander Chase DeJong, third baseman Mitch Nay, lefty Jairo Labourt, shortstop Dawel Lugo and righty Alberto Tirado, the Blue Jays' Rookie-level Appalachian League team was loaded with talent this year. Which guys stand out the most to you? Any possible Top 100 candidates?
-- Amit D., Toronto
Though it's probably a little early to talk about any of those players cracking MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list, there's no question that Bluefield had one of the most talented rosters in the Minors this year. The best prospect on that club was Davis, the 17th overall pick and the best athlete available in the 2012 Draft. Area scouts said his pure speed rivals that of fellow Mississippi high school product Billy Hamilton, and Davis offers more upside at the plate.
Bluefield's top pitching prospect was DeJong, a second-rounder from 2012. He's still growing into his skinny 6-foot-4 frame, but he could have a pair of plus pitches in his fastball and his curveball and he has more feel for pitching than most teenagers.
Among Bluefield's international contingent, Lugo stood out the most. Signed for $1.3 million out of the Dominican Republic two years ago, he might wind up moving to shortstop, but he has an advanced feel for hitting, at least solid power potential and an above-average arm.
Of the Brewers' current Arizona Fall League participants, which do you see having the biggest impact on the MLB team and when?
-- Derek H., Sheboygan, Wis.
The Brewers need rotation help and they could look to right-hander Taylor Jungmann at some point in 2014. Jungmann hasn't been as dominant or moved as quickly as anticipated when Milwaukee drafted him 12th overall in 2011, but he has advanced to Double-A.
While Jungmann may not have a true out pitch, he does a good job of using his 88-92 mph fastball to induce ground balls. He also has improved his curveball, though his control and command took a step back this season. If he starts locating his pitches better in Triple-A at the start of next season, he'll get the call to Miller Park. He projects to be a No. 4 starter.
Who will be better in the long term, Rangers right-hander Alex Gonzalez or Royals left-hander Sean Manaea?
-- Tim R., Kansas City
The answer really depends on Manaea's health. He projected to be a possible No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 Draft before a hip injury sapped his stuff last spring, causing him to fall to the Royals at No. 34. After signing for $3.55 million, he had hip surgery in June and returned to the mound 10 days ago in instructional league.
When fully healthy in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2012, Manaea had a mid-90s fastball that was allergic to bats and he flashed a plus slider as well. If he can regain that form, he's a front-line starter.
Gonzalez, who went No. 23 to the Rangers in June, looks to be a No. 2 or 3 starter. He's not left-handed and he doesn't throw as hard as a physically sound Manaea, but Gonzalez's fastball can be unhittable, too. It features a ton of natural cut and sink to both sides of the plate, and he backs it up with a quality slider.