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The most underrated prospects in baseball

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After examining the game's more overrated prospects two weeks ago, it's time to look at the opposite end of the spectrum: some of the most underrated MiLB'ers.

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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

In my last piece a couple weeks back I looked at some of the more overrated prospects in baseball. As I mentioned in the piece, after looking at more than 900 prospects in my book, The 2015 Prospect Digest Handbook, I’d like to turn the attention to the other end of the spectrum: the most underrated prospects in baseball.

1. Orlando Arcia
An absolutely fascinating story: Arcia more than held his own as a 16-year-old in the Dominican Summer League in 2011, hitting a robust .294/.386/.459 en route to posting a 144 wRC+. The Venezuelan-born middle infielder, however, would miss the entire following season as he recovered from a broken ankle. The Milwaukee front office nonetheless decided to push Arcia straight up to the Midwest League in 2013 where his overall numbers, .251/.314/.333, look rather uninspiring without proper context (i.e. age and development path). The club, keeping with the aggressive development curve, once again pushed him up a level in 2014. And, lo and behold, he shined – he batted .289/.346/.392 with 38 extra-base hits, 31 stolen bases, and a 113 wRC+. That, of course, comes with the added caveat of being the only qualified teenage bat in the Florida State League last season.

In my book I noted a rather intriguing similarity. Consider the following comparison:

Player Age Level PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% SB wRC+
Starlin Castro 19 FSL 387 0.302 0.340 0.391 4.9% 10.6% 22 112
Orlando Arcia 19 FSL 546 0.289 0.346 0.392 7.7% 11.9% 31 113

2. Michael Lorenzen
Admittedly, at first glance Lorenzen’s overall production in the Southern League hardly stands out last season – especially as a 22-year-old former first round pick. Across 120.2 innings with Pensacola, the 6-foot-3 right-hander posted a run-of-the-mill 84-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio with a matching 4.01 FIP. Nice production but far from noteworthy, except for the fact that he previously hurled a total of just 65.2 innings since entering college baseball.

Lorenzen, a former two-way player with a career .324/.394/.478 triple-slash line for Cal State Fullerton, spent his final two amateur seasons moonlighting as one of the better collegiate closers, racking up 35 saves, an impeccable 1.60 ERA, and a career 37-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Frankly, he looked like a potential fast-moving relief arm.

But Cincinnati doubled down on their gamble with Lorenzen and immediately converted the former reliever into a starting pitcher, a la Tony Cingrani (and later Nick Howard). And he more than handled himself in the Southern League despite his extreme lack of experience.

The strikeouts will come with added experience. The control is already solid-average. And he’s sporting a career groundball rate of nearly 48%. As I previously noted in my book, his ceiling resides somewhere close to a #2/#3-type role.

3. Dillon Overton
The 6-foot-2 southpaw, believe it or not, began his junior campaign as Oklahoma’s Friday night starter ahead of eventual #3 overall pick Jonathan Gray. But a downturn in production due to an elbow issue – his strikeout-to-walk ratio dropped from a career best 126-to-24 to 79-to-23 – forced Overton to take a backseat to his rotation mate.

Oakland grabbed Overton in the second round and immediately sent him under the knife – Tommy John surgery – within two weeks of signing him to a professional contract. Finally healthy, Overton was nothing short of dominant during his work against the lowest levels last season, tallying 53 punch outs and just four walks in 37.0 innings. He’s now healthy for the first time in two offseasons and has the potential to move very, very quickly with a mid-rotation ceiling.

4. Francellis Montas
Admittedly, this is the second consecutive year that I’ve ranked the hard-throwing right-hander as (A) one of the upcoming season’s bigger breakouts and (B) one of the more underrated prospects in the minors. After succumbing to not one but two meniscus injuries in 2014, Montas was on track to be one of 2014’s biggest risers: through his first 10 starts in the Carolina League, the then-21-year-old hurler posted a 56-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio to go along with a 2.90 FIP in 62.0 innings of work.

5. Clayton Blackburn
I’ve long, long been on the Blackburn bandwagon, ranking him no worse than third among the Giants’ top prospects over the last three offseasons. In 2013 I wrote, "As a prospect, Blackburn is really underappreciated. He dominated older competition, showed poise beyond his years, and generated a lot of weak contact. He won’t be a star, but he could be a solid #2/#3-type guy."

A rib injury limited the big right-hander to just 18 starts last season – albeit 18 very good starts. He posted a 94-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio with a 2.54 FIP in 93.0 innings. Assuming his preseason shoulder injury is just a speed bump, Blackburn could be up by the end of the year.

6. Robert Refsnyder
Stuck in an organization that rarely gives underrated position players an opportunity to play immediately, the Yankees have already deemed Stephen Drew, who’s hit .228/.305/.382 since the start of 2011, as the Opening Day second baseman rather than going with the former fifth rounder out of the University of Arizona.

Since entering High Class A in early 2013 Refsnyder has done nothing but hit, posting a .283/.408/.404 triple-slash line with Tampa, a .342/.385/.548 mark with Trenton, and passing the last minor league test, Class AAA, by slugging .300/.389/.456.

Refsnyder has average tools across the board with a track record of success in the minors. CAL links him to Jason Kipnis, Nick Franklin, Ryan Flaherty, Nate Spears, and Corban Joseph. Think slightly below league average bat with the ceiling as a two-win player.

For more prospect analysis, check out Joe's newest book, The 2015 Prospect Digest Handbook, here.

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphsBaseball-Reference, and MinorLeagueCentral.com

For more analysis check out Joe Werner's site, ProspectDigest.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoltinJoey