3. Jason Heyward
AGE: 23 DOB: 8/9/89 HT: 6-5 WT: 240 POS: RF
AVG .269 OBP .335 OPS .814 HR 27 SB 21 WAR 5.5
Current: The shoulder injury and the defensive, groundball-generating swing that came from it are both things of the past now, as Heyward finally restored his pre-injury swing in late May/early June and showed the power -- slugging .506 from June 1 onward -- expected of him when he was the game's top prospect heading into 2010. He's also become the NL's best defensive right fielder.
Future: The patience he showed as a rookie wasn't as evident in 2012, but when he brings that together with the rediscovered power, he'll be among the top half-dozen or so players in the league. Getting his manager to bat him higher in the lineup, preferably second rather than sixth or seventh, might be Heyward's biggest challenge going forward, as he's among Atlanta's top offensive weapons now that he's full healthy again.
19. Freddie Freeman
AGE: 23 DOB: 9/12/89 HT: 6-5 WT: 225 POS: 1B
AVG .259 OBP .340 OPS .796 HR 23 SB 2 WAR 2.1
Current: Freeman has had two very solid, nearly identical seasons in the majors that established him as a solid-average but unspectacular everyday first baseman, with a mediocre batting eye and slightly above-average power, along with above-average glove work at first. He dealt with a scratched cornea for part of the first half of 2012, and played slightly better, with more power, after the problem was resolved.
Future: I like Freeman but don't see him as having the same ceiling as the other first basemen on this list, guys with better bat speed or more power. On the other hand, Freeman has a pretty high established level of performance in the majors, isn't futile against lefties, and might be headed for an uptick in production now that the cornea issue is behind him.
21. Andrelton Simmons
AGE: 23 DOB: 9/4/89 HT: 6-2 WT: 170 POS: SS
AVG .289 OBP .335 OPS .751 HR 3 SB 1 WAR 2.8
Current: He's the best defensive shortstop in the majors, period. Simmons is an 80 defender (on the 20-80 scouting scale) with an 80 arm -- he was up to 98 mph as a pitcher in junior college, but most evaluators didn't think he'd hit. He's made plenty of contact since entering pro ball and did enough of that in limited major-league time last year to make himself more than just a defensive specialist.
Future: The hope here is that he turns into Elvis Andrus. Simmons is already Andrus' superior with the glove, but the low-walks, low-power approach at the plate that still resulted in high batting averages in the minors is no lock to do the same in the majors. Simmons' swing is long and his pitch recognition isn't great, so maybe he never becomes a big walker, but if he can post .360-plus OBPs with his glove he'll be a down-ballot MVP candidate in many years.
23. Craig Kimbrel
AGE: 24 DOB: 5/28/88 HT: 5-11 WT: 205 POS: RHP
IP 62.2 K 116 BB 14 HR 3 ERA 1.01 WAR 3.2
Current: It doesn't get much better than what Kimbrel did in 63 innings last year unless you're willing to think outside the one-reliever, one-inning box. Kimbrel's stuff is absolutely filthy, and the turnaround in his control is remarkable: In 2009, he threw 60 minor-league innings and walked 45 guys, but in 2012, he threw 63 innings and walked just 14.
Future: It doesn't get much better than this, and it won't. But enjoy it while it lasts, because Kimbrel's stats, at least on a per-inning or per-batter basis, are historic, and credit of manager Fredi Gonzalez -- he backed off last season after working Kimbrel and Atlanta's setup guys way too hard in 2011.