Baseball America releases a supplement to their top-30 prospect lists each year, where they reveal the identity of the 31st prospect in each organization. They've been doing this for eight years, so that's 240 prospects earning that spot -- that's a hefty total, so it's no surprise a reader asked BA's J.J. Cooper who the best number 31 prospects they've named are.
Cooper did more than just list off a few in his response: he built a team out of them. The star of that team, and far and away the top number 31 prospect Baseball America has ranked? The Red Sox' own Mookie Betts.
OF: Mookie Betts, Red Sox (2013): Easily the best player of this 31st team, Betts is one of the best young players in the game. In 2012 he had slid from shortstop to second base in deference to Deven Marrero and had blossomed at the new position. His 2013 writeup said "he has gotten stronger and hit more hard line drives last season. He has added muscle since signing and has the room to get stronger." He’s gotten stronger since, which has turned him into a potential star.
It's hard to imagine that it was only 2013 when Betts wasn't considered a significant a prospect. It's now only 2016, and he has almost 200 big-league games behind him, in which he's hit .291/.348/.471 while getting better and better defensively in the outfield, where he's only played since mid-2014.
It's the truth, though: before the 2013 season, Betts just had a stint in short-season Lowell behind him, where he hit .267/.352/.307. He hadn't yet made the changes to his game at Low-A Greenville that would propel him up the prospect lists, through the minors, and into the majors where he would find almost immediate success. The Sox saw something in him, of course, enough to sign him to a $750,000 bonus as a fifth-round pick back in 2011, but his rise has been staggering even for the most optimistic among us.
And to think, he's still just 23 years old, younger than a number of this year's top-100 prospect crop.
Betts isn't alone on this list in being a productive player after all but being missed by the prospect radar. Mitch Moreland is the first baseman on this "team", while Juan Lagares and Ender Inciarte are Betts' fellow outfielders. Can you imagine the defense of that outfield? Given some of the pitchers on this hypothetical team, they would probably need that kind of help.