Note: These rankings are about how much a player has improved his prospect standing in the organization based on the strength on their Instructional League showing and not about what they've done in 2013 as a whole.
1. RHP, Bryan Mitchell: This right-hander has his fair share of critics, especially on the heels of a not so great performance in the Florida State League this past season [5.12 ERA, 144 hits allowed in 126.2 innings], but he was a completely different pitcher by season's end.
Forget the fact that he was averaging 96 mph with his fastball and added a couple of ticks to his already plus power curveball, he began to perfect his 93 mph cutter towards the end of the year [a big reason why he struck out ten batters in his regular season finale in Trenton] and it looked great at Instructs. He looks poised to have an Ivan Nova breakout type season now that he has ascended to Double-A [Nova never fared well in A-ball statistically either] and the stuff keeps getting better.
2. 2B, Rob Refsnyder: The 2012 College World Series MVP was a breakout performer at Instructs a year ago and followed that up with a very good first full year in 2013, hitting a combined .293 with 32 doubles and more walks than strikeouts. In a case of deja vu, he was once again another standout performer at Instructs this year.
He not only made some sparkling plays defensively at second base [although he does have moments where he will lollipop occasional throws over to first base on routine grounders], but he continues to barrel the baseball with the best of them. Even his outs were scorching line drives or blasted one-hoppers right at defenders. He's one of the better helium prospects in the farm system right now.
3. 1B, Reymond Nunez: There were many critics at the beginning of the 2013 season that had already begun writing Nunez's baseball epitaph as another high-ceiling prospect who just would never pan out, but a career-high 15 home runs later he's finally beginning to tap some of that immense potential.
In truly 'better late than never' fashion, he kept that going at Instructs this offseason. A pronounced middle to opposite field hitter, he has really learned how to turn on inside pitches and use the entire field more. He's far from a given as a top prospect right now but he has certainly resuscitated a baseball career that was seemingly in pure coma status for a while.
4. LHP, Fred Lewis: Nunez is not the only "older" player that has resurrected his career -- this southpaw, a former 47th round pick, could be the second coming of Phil Coke as a late blooming power reliever whose stuff and pitch-ability are coming together at the higher minor league levels.
Always known for a rather deep repertoire of big league average pitches, including an average curveball and changeup, his fastball-slider combination in particular has begun to slide up into the plus categories lately. He'll sit anywhere from 91-95 with his two-seam/four-seam fastball combo and bring it as high as 97 mph, but his slider is beginning to add some velocity and some late biting life too. He's squarely on the radar now, especially on the heels of his Instructional League performance.
5. Peter O'Brien: Shortstop Abiatal Avelino and outfielder Dustin Fowler could certainly fit in here with the way they played at Instructs [Fowler in particular looks like a quick-twitch version of Jake Cave, albeit a less polished version], but O'Brien, even with his defensive shortcomings, continues to shine as a potential impact bat.
He gets a little maligned for his rather high strikeout rate and lower walk ratios, but the fact is he has a very good idea of the strike zone and more patience than some folks realize. He has also shortened his stroke some and has begun to use the opposite field more, two areas of his game that saw marked improvements at Instructs. He seemingly had a double to center or right-center in every game at Instructs this year and he's inching his way closer to becoming an Evan Gattis-like power bat prospect-wise.
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