In recent memory, there have been some incredibly talented prospects that were attached with an absurd amount of hype. In 2006, the baseball world was introduced to the diminutive right hander with a golden fastball, Tim Lincecum. He set records in college, and absolutely dismantled the minor leagues. Lincecum along with players like Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, helped change the course of the Giants' future.
Just three years later, we were introduced to two more spectacularly hyped players, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. In the history of the draft, no prospect had ever received as much hype as Strasburg, which Baseball America said was warranted. He was the Golden Spikes Award winner with a fastball that reached triple digits, and went number one overall to the Nationals. However Strasburg didn't hold the title of most hyped prospect for long. That same year, Sports Illustrated placed a 16-year old über-prospect from Las Vegas named Bryce Harper on the cover of their magazine.
While most teenagers his age were firmly settled into their summer vacations, Harper was bashing baseballs and making plans to enroll in the College of Southern Nevada. By getting his GED and enrolling in a junior college, Harper made himself eligible for the draft as a 17-year old. He was dubbed "the chosen one" and the most exciting talent since LeBron James. After Harper, It didn't seem like baseball could ever care more about prospects, but 2015 has proved that to be untrue.
The superstar class
While he didn't make the team out of spring training, the prospect spotlight has been focused on Kris Bryant for sometime now. Once his contract was purchased, Bryant immediately made an impact on the team. In 23 games, Bryant has an OBP of .408, and has finally found his power stroke. After going 90 at bats without hitting a home run, he's hit two in his last 13. However Bryant hasn't been the only one to debut for the Cubs. On most teams, Addison Russell would be the franchise altering prospect, but on the Cubs is just another amazing talent on an incredibly young team. He's been called "Barry Larkin with power", and since going 0-5 on April 25th, has posted a wRC+ of 132. Russell has settled into second base nicely, and has a firm hold on the position. In addition to these two Cubs, another player will be making his MLB debut at Wrigley tonight, albeit for the opposing team.
Noah Syndergaard was called up to replace Dillon Gee on the active roster, and will take the mound tonight. Syndergaard was acquired in a trade with the Blue Jays for R.A. Dickey, and joins an exciting Mets rotation featuring Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey. Zack Wheeler is lost until sometime in mid-2016, but when he returns, the Mets could potentially have one of the best rotations in baseball. In five games at AAA, Syndergaard posted an ERA of 1.82, a K/9 of 10.31, and a BB/9 of 2.43. His timeline was accelerated with Gee's injury, but likely has a legitimate chance to stick in the rotation if he proves to be effective.
South of Wrigley Field, Carlos Rodon made his major league debut as a reliever, and most recently as a starting pitcher. Rodon's command was rough, but overall he displayed what made him the 3rd overall pick in last year's draft. While it originally seemed that he'd make just one spot start, Robin Ventura may have him take another turn in the rotation this Friday in Oakland. He'll likely be shifted back to the bullpen, but probably not for long. The White Sox starters have struggled, and Rodon could step into the rotation seamlessly if they don't improve.
The next wave of catchers
Very rarely do franchise catchers come along. The Yankees had Jorge Posada during their championship run, for a time the Twins had Joe Mauer, and the Giants have Posey. In 2015, three notable prospects have debuted, and may eventually become the everyday catcher. The top of this new class is undoubtedly Blake Swihart. The Red Sox refused to part with him even when the return was Cole Hamels. But in an era where pitching is easier to come by than offense, sticking with Swihart may prove to be the right move (especially if a trade can be worked out anyway). His first taste of major league action has been tough, but his talent is apparent. He's a switch hitting catcher, and has been compared to Posey in regards to overall tool set.
The other two catchers, while less heralded, were top prospects as well. Kevin Plawecki was ranked 63rd on Baseball America's top 100, and Austin Hedges was the fourth best prospect in the Padres system. Plawecki's time seems limited however, because once Travis d'Arnaud is healthy, he'll resume the everyday role. Hedges on the other hand doesn't seem destined for daily activity in the immediate future, as he has just ten plate appearances in four games. While they made their debut's last year, J.T. Realmuto and Andrew Susac are a part of this new wave. On that same top 100 list, Realmuto is the 76th best prospect, and has taken over now that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is gone; while Susac is ranked 88th, and seems primed to step into the starting role once Posey eventually moves to a different position.
Pitchers on the rise
Before a line drive struck Archie Bradley in the face, he was off to a tremendous start, and out-dueled Clayton Kershaw and Bumgarner in his first two starts. In 20 innings, Bradley posted an ERA of 1.80, along with an FIP of 3.55. After a prolonged absence, he's set to come off the DL soon, and pitch this Sunday against the Phillies. While neither of the next two pitchers have debuted yet, it's likely to happen sometime soon. Before the Mets called up Syndergaard, they had considered his teammate Steven Matz. Terry Collins was told by their AAA manger Wally Backman that both pitchers were ready for the majors if called upon. In the same division, Ruben Amaro said that while 2014 draftee Aaron Nola will stay in AA for the time being, he could be promoted to the big leagues later this year.
The next superstar class
It seems premature to write about the forthcoming group of superstars when someone like Bryant hasn't even been in the big leagues for a month, but that's the reality in 2015. On Monday, the Astros promoted their future franchise shortstop Carlos Correa to AAA. While it appeared that a broken leg would push back his timeline, in 113 plate appearances at AA this season he hit .385/.459/.726 and posted a wRC+ of 219. Jed Lowrie is signed through at least 2017, but that wont prevent the Astros from making Correa the everyday shortstop once he's ready. That's likely to happen once the Super Two deadline has passed, and will strengthen the overall development of the franchise.
On the west coast, the Dodgers have Corey Seager, the younger brother of Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager. Ben Badler has called him one of the game's elite prospects, and Kyle himself has said his brother is the more talented of the two. While Seager has struggled in his first ten games since being promoted to AAA, he hit .375/.407/.675 and posted a wRC+ of 189 in 20 games at AA. Jon Heyman reported that Correa could be with the Astros "within a couple weeks" and that Seager and Byron Buxton may be next.
Prospects have become the focus of front offices and fans alike in recent memory. With skyrocketing contracts in free agency, homegrown players are extraordinarily valuable. They represent a way to reap high value for minimal cost, while spending on other areas of need. We're currently in the golden age of prospects, and have seen some incredible examples of it. When the final out was recorded in 2014, the Giants had seven players on the field that had either been drafted or signed by the club; the Cubs have an infield that is 25-years and under; and the Dodgers have a fantastic core of players themselves. While teams used to simply throw money around in free agency to solve their positional needs, the focus is now on addressing problems though developing players.