Home runs are down nearly 20 percent from their 2004 peak, and scouts have made it clear that based on what they are seeing in the minors, that downward trend is going to continue. With Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper in the big leagues and Seattle's Jesus Montero beginning the year there, all of a sudden there are precious few power hitters in the minors, and while there are plenty of theories as to the cause, there's no obvious answer as to why.
The knee-jerk reaction is that this is a result of the end of the PED era, but that's a simplistic argument that ignores other trends we are currently seeing in the minor leagues.
"If it was PEDs, then explain to me why I can't turn my head without seeing some kid throwing 95 mph," quipped an American League assistant general manager.
An AL scouting official added, "Everyone is going to want to say we're coming out of the steroid era as it relates to power hitters, but arm strength isn't affected? I've never seen anything like the power that is coming out of pitchers in terms of velocity at every level."
Another team official believes that clubs have learned their lessons in some ways when it comes to finding hitters.
"There hasn't been a lot of power in the draft since 2008, but at the same time, we've gotten away from the 'gorilla ball' mentality," the official explained. "Those old college bats fooled us on a lot of players, so now there's an emphasis on premium positions. Our collective mindset has shifted more to developing all-around games and finding better defenders and guys who can run, and I think overall it's a good thing and leading to better decisions."
Yet in Latin America, there's been a reversal in those trends.
"All of a sudden, teams are seeing power in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, and they're paying for it," said an international scouting official. "We used to only pay for athletes in Latin America, with the slugger-only types never getting big money."
Chances are we'll still get our sluggers, as an American League scout made a point about surprises. "David Ortiz, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Nelson Cruz, David Freese, Pablo Sandoval," he listed. "How many of those guys looked like they were going to be in the middle of a lineup when they were prospects?"
Surprises are hard to predict, and while there are few players who project as future sluggers, here are three prospects a poll of scouts determined as the most likely to become middle-of-the-order run-producers.