Early Leaders: Zunino, Buxton, d’Arnaud start hot

By Brendon Desrochers

We’re barely a week into the season, but let’s take a brief look at which prospects (those ranked in MLB.com club top-20s) are leading statistical categories (through games of Thursday, April 11):

Total Bases, Home Runs, RBIs and Slugging: Mike Zunino (SEA) with 27, 4, 17 and 1.038

Albuquerque’s Scott Van Slyke is the Minors’ leader in total bases with 32 and slugging at 1.143 (and the venerable Mike Hessman leads with five homers), but Zunino, the Mariners’ No. 3 prospect and No. 23 overall, is off to a strong start with three doubles a triple and the four home runs in six games (and he is the Minors overall leader with those 17 RBIs). As noted in the first Fantasy Focus, the Florida product and 2012 Golden Spikes Award winner may not be long for the Minors. His bat may be ready already.

Mike Zunino has had the season's best start among top prospects. (Sara Molina/River Cats)

Mike Zunino has had the season’s best start among top prospects. (Sara Molina/River Cats)

Batting Average and On-base Percentage: Byron Buxton (MIN) at .500 and .565

Van Slyke also leads the Minors in average at .570, but the precocious Buxton, MLB.com’s No. 19 overall prospect, is 10-for-20 with a double, triple, two home runs and two stolen bases in five games. His three walks give him the edge in OBP at .565 (Billy Burns of Potomac leads the Minors among all players at .640). Like Zunino, Buxton too was featured in the first Fantasy Focus, and though the second overall pick from the 2012 Draft won’t turn 20 until December, the potential five-tool center fielder already has Twins fans drooling.

Runs Scored: Travis d’Arnaud (NYM) with 10

His 51s teammate Josh Satin and Tacoma’s Alex Liddi have 11, but it’s still been a strong start for the Minors’ top catching prospect. He’s drawn seven walks and reached base six times via base hit, which has given him the chance to score those 10 runs. With the way John Buck has been hitting for the Mets, though, d’Arnaud may be in Vegas for a few months longer.

Doubles: Maikel Franco (PHI) with 5

Eleven Minor Leaguers share the doubles lead with five, but Clearwater’s Maikel Franco is the only one of the 11 to rank in his organization’s top 20 prospects. The 20-year-old Dominican third baseman is rated 11th in the Phillies organization, and he’s had four doubles in his last three games (plus two homers and seven RBIs in his last two games). Perhaps this is the year that the raw pop Franco’s always showcased in batting practice will consistently make appearances in live action.

Hits: Xavier Avery (BAL) with 13

Avery is three hits behind High Desert’s Kevin Rivers plus Satin and Van Slyke overall, but his start is impressive nonetheless. He has four doubles and two steals to go with the 13 hits and .351 average for Double-A Bowie. The 23-year-old outfielder got into 32 games with the postseason-bound Orioles last year but still qualifies as a prospect and ranks seventh on the Orioles’ list. Avery continues to strike out a bit too much for a player without much power — he has 10 in 37 at-bats — but at least the Atlanta native has shown a consistent ability to draw walks, even earning a free pass in 10.3 percent of 107 plate appearances in Baltimore.

Jurickson Profar's bat hasn't heated up yet, but he has shown good patience at the plate. (Jim Redman/MiLB.com)

Jurickson Profar’s bat hasn’t heated up yet, but he has shown good patience at the plate. (Jim Redman/MiLB.com)

Walks: Jurickson Profar (TEX) and Robbie Grossman (HOU) with 8

Profar, as we know, is the complete package as a prospect. Despite starting just 6-for-24 with a double, his eight walks show a mature approach and respect from PCL pitchers and managers. How and where Profar becomes a Ranger for good — especially with the big deal Texas just handed Elvis Andrus — is one of the season’s intriguing subplots.

Nick Swisher (Getty Images)

Grossman came to the Astros from Pittsburgh when Wandy Rodriguez was sent north. The outfielder is known almost entirely for his patience. He became the first player since Nick Swisher to have 100 walks and 100 runs scored in a Minor League season when he achieved the feat with Bradenton in 2011. He has more power and less speed than Reggie Willits, but he profiles similarly to the Angels’ fourth outfielder of years past.

Strikeouts: Jared Mitchell (CWS) with 15

Mitchell is another patient hitter, but he hasn’t been able to battle out of deep counts this season as his 5-for-34 (.147) performance and strikeout total indicate. He does have five walks and three steals this season, but Mitchell’s .213 average in 155 at-bats for Charlotte between this season and last is poor. Though it’s early in this season, at age 24, time is running out for Mitchell to live up to his 2009 first-round billing.

Stolen Bases: Cory Spangenberg (SD) with 9

Another first-round pick (No. 10 overall in 2011), the second baseman has enjoyed his time with Lake Elsinore of the California League, batting .323 and stealing those nine bases without being caught. He has three more than you-know-who and has shown he’s completely recovered from the concussions he suffered last season. His speed will play at any level, and his doubles power could work in PETCO Park, even post-reconfiguration.

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