The WTNY Top 50
I’ve been working on this list for awhile, so finally I get to debut my top 50 prospect list. For each player I wrote about a paragraph about their skillset, and then skipped a line, put a *, and wrote a sentence or two about their future. My list is more tools-based than most sabermatricians around the Internet, but more performance-based than the average scout would tell you.
1. Joe Mauer- C- Minnesota Twins
Not many players can justify being chosen before Mark Prior, but Mauer comes awfully close. He’s the consensus #1 choice on every list, mainly because he is so unique. Only five left-handed hitting catchers have hit .280 more than once, and three (Mickey Cochrane, Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey) are Hall of Famers. Mauer hits for average extremely well, and is said to have Gold Glove defense. I’m not sure if Mauer will ever hit for the power the scouts are suggesting, I see more Cochrane than Dickey.
*- It’s really up to Mauer when he hits the Metrodome, but he could start the season there. If he struggles in Spring Training, the Twins will send him to AAA for fine-tuning.
2. B.J. Upton- SS- Tampa Bay Devil Rays- Bats- R Throws- R
The sky is the limit for B.J., who had very similar numbers to what Derek Jeter had in the SALLY League as a 19-year-old. Upton has 50SB potential, and projects to 15-25HR annually. He struggled mightily on defense, and had 56 errors last season. That should change with age, and it’s believed he can be at least league average.
*- The Devil Rays challenged Upton in 2003, and he really came through. The team will send him to AA Orlando, and will have the position wide open before 2005. But, they must make sure they advance him carefully, he’s their best prospect ever.
3. Edwin Jackson- RHP- Los Angeles Dodgers
At first glance, I was going to give the best starter label to fellow Dodger Greg Miller, but when investigating their peripheral numbers, my mind changed. Here’s how the pair did at their main level in ’04:
Name H/9 K/9
Jackson 7.34 9.53
Miller 8.01 8.64
While Miller ended the season wonderfully in AA, Jackson did fantastic in the Major Leagues. Jackson reminds me of Giant Jerome Williams, and it looks like the two will duke it out for years to come. Both have mid-90s fastballs and very good curveballs, are basically the same size, and are said to have very fluid motions. If you live in Los Angeles and aren’t excited, change.
*- After a spectacular September, Jackson might earn a spot with the Dodgers. If not, he’ll go to AAA and be up by midseason. Dodger Stadium plus Jackson spells out Rookie of the Year.
4. Rickie Weeks- 2B- Milwaukee Brewers- Bats-R Throws-R
With Weeks being selected second overall, there has been three straight years of #2 choices dominating the first pick (Prior over Mauer, Upton over Bullington, Weeks over Young). Weeks has been much accomplished at every level, starting with the NCAA, then the Midwest League, and finally the AFL. He reminds me of Joe Morgan offensively, though Weeks has defensive shortcomings that Morgan didn’t. Think Alfonso Soriano, only with better discipline.
*- The Brewers have second base filled in 2004, but they’ll make room when Rickie is ready. He’ll likely start in AA, but will join his future infield partners J.J. Hardy and Corey Hart in Indianapolis before long.
5. Alexis Rios- OF- Toronto Blue Jays- Bats- R Throws- R
No one broke out last year more than Rios, who finally justified the first round selection the team used on him. Tall and lanky, Rios has contact skills that are unmatched in the minor leagues. While his power hasn’t developed yet, he showed promising results in the Winter League, hitting 12 HR in 155AB. John Neary over at Batter’s Box had a nice piece on what that means here. On defense, Rios doesn’t cover the ground that Vernon Wells does, so he may move to left. At the Futures Game, Rios made a fantastic throw from center, and scouts agree he has the arm for right. The only outfielder to ever hit .300 at 6-6 was Dave Winfield, and Rios might be a lighter version of him.
*- There’s little doubt that Rios will be in AAA next season, as the Blue Jays give him another year to hone his power skills. Then in 2005, the Jays will field a fantastic Gross-Wells-Rios trio in the Skydome.
6. Justin Morneau- 1B- Minnesota Twins- Bats-L Throws-R
In terms of power, Justin Morneau is in the highest tier, competing only with Prince Fielder and Jason Stokes in the minor leagues. But Morneau is the most Major League ready of the 3, as he hit 22HR in only four months in AA and AAA. The best comparison I could come up with is Willie McCovey, who just happens to be in the 500-HR club. Justin could draw more walks and strike out less, and some worry he won’t hit for average. The Twins have a star on their hands here, and Minnesota could have an M+M combo reminding of Biggio and Bagwell very soon.
*- Justin is very close to ready, but the team is milking their time with Doug Mientkiewicz. I would trade their Gold Glover for Morneau, but instead Terry Ryan is going to let him dominate AA, and then unseat Matt LeCroy at DH.
7. Greg Miller- LHP- Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are really hoping for a second coming of Sam McDowell, but Miller might write his own book with his skills. Thought to be a questionable first-round pick before the 2002 draft, Miller turned it up in the final weeks, and the Dodgers ended up with a steal. Miller brings mid-90s heat, and two fantastic breaking pitches. Health could be a worry, but Miller finished the season fantastically in AA. Greg must add weight to his 6-5 frame, but could give the Dodgers the best 1-2 combo in the National League.
*- While Miller was great in Jacksonville, it was only in four starts. He’ll go back there for 2004, and spend the year in the Southern League as a 19-year-old, like Jackson did this past year. Jackson and Joel Hanrahan will get starts before Miller, but the Dodgers might be highest on their southpaw.
8. Andy Marte- 3B- Atlanta Braves- Bats-R Throws-R
While the Braves system is renowned for producing pitching, the team has their best prospect since Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones walked the minors. Marte produced and produced big in the Florida State League, hitting 52 extra-base hits at the level. If your keeping track, that’s one less than Miguel Cabrera had at that level in 2002, and Marte’s AVE and OBP bested the Marlin youngster. Marte brings great defense to the table, and is nearly Major League ready.
*- If Marte follows Cabrera’s path, he’ll be in Atlanta midseason. My guess is they leave him in AA Greenville a little bit longer, but he’ll be the Opening Day 3B in 2005. Marte will be hitting 30HR annually in Turner Field in five years time.
9. Zack Greinke- RHP- Kansas City Royals
In his first full year against professional hitting, Zack Greinke has made a name for himself. The Royal right-hander absolutely dominated Carolina League opponents, following a winter spent in the Puerto Rican League. Greinke dropped on my list due to a weak K/9 rate, but he balances that with great control. He understands changing speeds better than any other prospect, and mixes in an above-average curve. With three Major League pitches, Kansas City fans are praying for the second coming of Saberhagen.
*- Upon promotion to AA, Greinke was hardly dominating. He'll head back to Wichita at year's beginning, but don't bet against him arriving about the same time that Jimmy Gobble did last year.
10. Jeremy Reed- OF- Chicago White Sox
My 2003 minor league player of the year, Jeremy Reed has ascented unlike any other prospect. The White Sox outfielder improved after a midseason AA promotion, hitting .409 and slugging more home runs. Reed may be the most instinctual player in the minors, using that both on defense and on the basepaths. He'll be an average fielder in both center and on the corners, but he does have the arm for right field. Reed's plate discipline is unparalleled, and he's very reminiscent of Lenny Dykstra. A sabermatrician's dream, it wasn't a surprise that Baseball Prospectus introduced Reed to me.
*- Jeremy will get a chance at the centerfield job in Spring Training, but sending him to AAA has advantages also. Reed far surpasses former top prospect Joe Borchard, who should consider following the Drew Henson path soon.
11. Cole Hamels- LHP- Philadelphia Phillies
No 2002 draftee made noise like Cole Hamels did last year, not Upton, not Greinke, not Prince. Hamels made low-A hitters look silly in 2003, to the tone of a 3.86H/9 and 13.86K/9. Upon moving to the Florida State League, Hamels' H/9 fell a bit, but he kept his strikeout rates high. The southpaw has the best change up in the minors, as well as pinpoint control. Give Ed Wade and Mike Arbuckle some credit, they've had some great draft picks in recent years.
*- Cole will head back to the FSL next year, but will be in the Eastern League by year’s end. A 2005 September call-up should be in the cards, fantastic pick by the Phillies.
12. Jeff Mathis- C- Anaheim Angels
While Mauer is a better catching prospect, Jeff Mathis has much more raw power. Mathis, converted to catching when joining the Angels, is transitioning better each year. Jeff has become a solid catcher, improving his caught-stolen percentage each season. If Mathis can turn some of his thirty-nine doubles to home runs, he’ll hit twenty-five home runs immediately. Forget a terrible AFL, Mathis is the top Angel prospect.
*- Bengie Molina is a free agent at year’s end, and they’ll lean on Mathis to take over in 2005. The Angels ability to mesh rookies and All-Stars will determine their success.
13. Prince Fielder- 1B- Milwaukee Brewers
There is not a bat in the minor leagues that I (as a hypothetical GM) would want more than Prince Fielder's. Prince has inherited his father's power, but possesses contact skills that Cecil didn't have. Fielder has very good plate discipline, and struck out much less than the average Midwest Leaguer. While he has the bat, he drops in rankings because he brings little else to the table. His speed is non-existent, and some worry he won't be much as a first basemen. But in Weeks and Fielder, the Brew have a helluva 3-4 for the future.
*- Milwaukee doesn't like sending hitters to the massive pitcher's park at high-A, so they probably won't. Fielder will be challenged at AA, and his timetable will solely be determined on performance.
14. Scott Kazmir- LHP- New York Mets
The Mets took it very slow with Scott Kazmir this year, as the 2002 first-rounder only threw 4.37 innings a start. There have been prior concerns about injury, likely due to his short build and high-torque delivery. Kazmir wasn't as dominating as Cole Hamels, but had better peripheral numbers after a promotion to the FSL. Kazmir throws a great fastball, and some scouts say he depends on it too much. He draws the inevitable Billy Wagner comparisons, but they may be fair as he could end up closing in Flushing.
*- New York will continue to baby Kazmir, whom they invested $2.15M into. Barring injury that should pay off, whether or not he's starting. Expect him in Shea regularly by 2006.
15. David Wright- 3B- New York Mets
In terms of prospect status, the AFL helped David Wright considerably. During that time, Wright jumped over Dallas McPherson as my #2 3B prospect, and climbed into the top-15. There isn't a lot to not like about Wright, he's got power, patience, and speed. Some are worried that he's yet to dominate a level, but the Mets have very high hopes for his 2004 Eastern League performance. I'll second Mike Gullo's comparison to Scott Rolen, Wright's got the total package.
*- New York is another team who could have great success if they mix veterans and prospects well, as they have both the money and the system. Jim Duquette is counting on Wright to nudge out Ty Wigginton next year.
16. Grady Sizemore- OF- Cleveland Indians
Grady Sizemore isn't fantastic at anything, but he's above average in just about everything. I witnessed the outfielder hit a home run in the Futures Game, and was left very impressed. While Sizemore didn't 'dominate' the Eastern League, he was one of the better players. The Indians aren't sure what to make of Sizemore: center or left? Middle of the order, or top? My thinking is that Grady should be a leadoff left fielder, although he's not the fantastic basestealer that some GMs yearn for.
*- The Indians should send Sizemore to the International League to further refine his skills. Plus, the $13.5 million that Matt Lawton is owed still stands in the way. But when it's time, the Indians Sizemore-Bradley-Gerut outfield will be damn good.
17. Delmon Young- OF- Tampa Bay Devil Rays
To say the least, Tampa Bay had a hard time with their top overall choice. It was going to be Ryan Harvey, maybe Kyle Sleeth, even Marc Cornell got a try out. Adam Loewen signed with the Orioles in the final minutes, and it looked like Rickie Weeks was the choice. That was until they saw Delmon Young. Dmitri's brother is a much more complete version of himself, with a sky-high ceiling. He dominated the AFL, and Peter Gammons quotes a scout that is reminded of Albert Belle. Delmon will remain in right field, and may lead the AL in home runs if Chuck Lamar finally got one right.
*- Predicting Delmon's performance next year is a fool's game, but the D-Rays would be correct to send him to high-A Bakersfield. With the speed of Tampa promotions, he'll get a shot next Spring Training, with a more permanent stay mid-2005.
18. Bobby Crosby- SS- Oakland Athletics
Knowing that Miguel Tejada was heading elsewhere after 2003, Billy Beane and co. had high hopes for Bobby Crosby. He exceeded every expectation that could have been set, capturing the PCL Rookie of the Year award. Crosby had 54 extra-base hits, including his own career-high 22HR. He walks a lot, yet balances that with too many strikeouts. He'll show average power, and is a fantastic basestealer (24/28) if the A's utilize that skill. Crosby reminds me of Edgar Renteria with his mix of power and speed.
*- The only thing that can hold Crosby from starting is a bad enough camp to put Mark Ellis back at shortstop. Bobby will get 500AB in 2004, and is a favorite to land his second straight Rookie of the Year award.
19. Casey Kotchman- 1B- Anaheim Angels
When healthy, Casey Kotchman can hit. It's just that first part that holds him back from the top ten, and the second part that keeps him in the top 20. Kotchman has a left-handed swing that rivals only Joe Mauer, and like Mauer, he perfectly commands the strike zone. He'll have to prove he has home run power to end the Will Clark/Mark Grace comparisons, and may turn out to be Rafael Palmiero when all is said and done. Kotchman is a great defender, and could start winning Gold Gloves from year one.
*- The Angels will likely lose Garret Anderson after 2004, pushing Darin Erstad back to center, allowing Kotchman to step in and join Mathis in the '05 lineup. For now, he'll head to AA, try to stay healthy, and keep tearing the cover off the ball.
20. Josh Barfield- 2B- San Diego Padres
Being the son of a former AL home run champ seems to be the easiest way in the top 20, as both Cecil Fielder and Jesse Barfield's sons have spots there. Josh Barfield is much different than his father, as he's a second basemen who has yet to develop more than doubles power. His forty-six doubles led him to being California League MVP, and the Padres hope that his home run total will rise this year. Barfield strikes out too much, and is merely an average defender. He stole 16 bases last year, and has the speed to boost that total.
*- Josh will be tested in AA, as San Diego hopes to push Barfield to less strikeouts. He was the best 2B prospect before Rickie Weeks came along, and should be in PETCO starting in September of 2005.
21. Ervin Santana- RHP- Anaheim Angels
The Minors First said of Santana, "[Santana] has one of the most electric young arms in the minors." And as usual, Mike Gullo is right on the nose. Santana was sensational in high-A, with a H/9 sitting right around 7.00. He struggled a bit when moving to the Texas League, although he only allowed 23 hits in 29.1 innings. Ervin has a mid-90s fastball, along with a great slider as a knock out pitch. I'm not as high on Ervin as other sites, but I concede that he has #2 potential.
*- Santana will head back to AA this year, and is looking at a September call-p in Anaheim. He'll be starting in 2005, and begin what should be a long rivalry with Rich Harden.
22. Guillermo Quiroz- C- Toronto Blue Jays
Months after having his season ended with a collapsed lung, Guillermo Quiroz kept hitting while in the winter league. I remember when Quiroz was the fourth best catcher in the Toronto system (Phelps, Werth, Cash), then drawing comparisons to Henry Blanco. Then something weird started happening...he started hitting. Twenty home runs later, Guillermo Quiroz is a power threat every at-bat. Mix that with a fantastic arm, and you have yourself a top-notch catching prospect.
*- Since the Blue Jays have Kevin Cash and Greg Myers, Quiroz will get all the time he needs. He’ll start the year in Syracuse, and could have the weak side of a platoon in September.
23. Clint Nageotte- RHP- Seattle Mariners
If you like sliders, you’re going to love Mariner right-hander Clint Nageotte. There is little question that Nageotte’s slider is the best of any prospect, which led to a dominating Texas League performance in 2003. His 3.10ERA (higher than most prospects on this list) is caused by a high walk ratio, but I am a believer that control can be learned. Nageotte also boasts a big fastball, a picture of the perfect power pitcher. Refining his changeup would put him in the top 10, for now, just be wowed by those sliders.
*- I’m under the opinion that the 2005 Mariner rotation will be very different than the current version. I expect Soriano, Nageotte, and prospect #37 will join Moyer and Pineiro full-time next year.
24. Dustin McGowan- RHP- Toronto Blue Jays
It’s definitely amusing that the Blue Jays, with their Moneyball regime in place, have three non-college players in the top twenty-five. McGowan is the most unique of the bunch...a high school pitcher. McGowan is a big right-hander that showed plus control in 150+ IP. His K/9 is a little low, but improved upon a move to AA. His H/9 jumped above 9.00 after his promotion, but John Sickels pointed out he was still below Eastern League average. With four plus pitches and a good pitcher’s body, McGowan is the real deal.
*- Dustin is another of the many pitching prospects on this list that will be in the Majors in 2005. Sure, he might make about five starts this year, but he’ll likely split time between AA and AAA.
25. J.J. Hardy- SS- Milwaukee Brewers
J.J. Hardy is a scout’s dream. The kid has contact skills, patience, a bit of power, and sensational defense....at shortstop. Sabermatricians will love his BB/K that is above 1.00. But one thing scares me: a .275 average. Hardy faded late, and his average finished much too low. AA is a long way from the NL Central, so Hardy must boost that average this year. He won’t run much, but he’ll be a wonderful two-hole hitter if things bounce right.
*- Like most Brewer prospects, Hardy doesn’t have to worry about being blocked. His performance creates its own timetable, and I think the Brewers are hoping for a Midsummer entrance.
26. Angel Guzman- RHP- Chicago Cubs
Not often can a player make the top thirty with an injury that ended his season before he threw ninety innings, but then again, few have Angel Guzman’s arm. Reports say Guzman will be back and healthy by the end of Spring Training. When healthy, Guzman has a fantastic fastball, and can change speeds very well. He has a very refined change up, as well as a very good curve. There is still a large injury concern with Guzman, so the Cubs will take it very slow with Guzman this year.
*- Guzman is the favorite to replace Matt Clement in 2005. He’ll likely get 3-5 Major League starts this year, and spend the rest of his year in Iowa.
27. Franklin Gutierrez- OF- Los Angeles Dodgers
There is no question that Franklin Gutierrez is raw. He struck out 131 times in 492AB between high-A and AA, and then 47 more in 160 Winter League AB. But like many Dominican sluggers before him, Gutierrez has power. He hit 20HR in A-ball, and then four more in just 67 Southern League at-bats. Power was the only thing that stayed with him in winter ball, as his contact skills left him. Gutierrez stole twenty bases in the regular season, and is touted with having a plus arm.
*- Despite a great performance in AA last year, Gutierrez will spend more time there in 2004. This type of player tends to struggle when reach upper levels, so it’s safer predicting a 2006 time of arrival.
28. Adam Wainwright- RHP- St. Louis Cardinals
The first player on this list that isn’t on his original team, Adam Wainwright was the key to the J.D. Drew trade for the Cardinals. Teams are intrigued over Wainwright’s 6-6, 220 body, a frame that is usually very resistant to injury. Wainwright’s strikeout rates were alarmingly low, and he really tailed off after joining Team USA in October. Adam doesn’t throw in the mid-90s like scouts used to project, but he mixes his three pitches very well against hitters.
*- Wainwright should be up by midseason, though there is a chance he beats Dan Haren or Cris Carpenter out of a rotation slot. Expect Wainwright to replace an injured Cardinal before the Midsummer Classic.
29. John Van Benschoten- RHP- Pittsburgh Pirates
After watching JVB play baseball, you get the feeling that he would have succeeded in hitting if the Pirates had chosen that route. But Dave Littlefield made a nice move converting the former NCAA home run champ to the mound, where he’s really flourished. Like Dustin McGowan, Van Benschoten’s H/9 rate was above 9.00 in the Eastern League, but still below league average. Watching him at the Futures Game, I was very impressed by his curveball, a pitch he threw quite often.
*- The Pirates worry about their former first-rounder’s stamina, so you might not see Van Benschoten in PNC Park this year. He still must develop his secondary pitches, but should replace Kris Benson in 2005.
30. Jason Bay- OF- Pittsburgh Pirates
Being in three organizations in oen year normally doesn’t reflect a good player, but Jason Bay is the exception to that rule. The Mets made a big mistake trading Bay to the Padres in order to land Steve Reed, a deadline deal gone wrong. Bay was sensational in the PCL, with a .951OPS, 20HR in 307AB, and 23 stolen bases. He was a key component in the Brian Giles trade, and quickly justified the Bucs end of the deal. His OPS was .950 in eighty-seven Major League at-bats, including eleven extra-base hits.
*- Bay, along with Kaz Matsui and Edwin Jackson, is a favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year. He’ll play an outfield corner spot for the Pirates, and should sit in the middle of Lloyd McClendon’s lineup.
31. Bobby Jenks- RHP- Anaheim Angels
I imagine this pick will draw as much criticism as any other choice, because I rank Jenks much higher than other systems. I see Bartolo Colon in Jenks, fitting as they will soon be teammates. Jenks has a huge fastball, but had more success not trying to register triple digits last season. His curveball, like Colon, can be unhittable at times, and led to a fantastic K/9 rate. Jenks continued his success in winter ball, but like always, his problem will be control. And like Colon, his weight.
*- Jenks only managed 16 starts in AA due to injury, but he was fantastic. He’ll be in AAA this year, and is a good bet to make a Rafael Soriano impact before getting a full-time job in 2005.
32. Joe Blanton- RHP- Oakland Athletics
Moneyball glorified every selection the A’s made in the 2002 draft, but only Blanton has panned out like Billy Beane had hoped. The A’s sent the right-hander to the Midwest League last year, and he didn’t have much competition. Blanton was one of the older pitchers in his league, and only allowed nineteen walks in 133IP. His success continued greatly in the Texas League, and the A’s are hoping that Blanton flies through the system like Rich Harden did a year ago.
*- Oakland’s rotation is flawless, and PCL pitcher of the year Justin Duchscerer is one of the best sixth starters in the business. Blanton will take his time in AA, but will probably be looking at a mid-2005 entrance.
33. Dallas McPherson- 3B- Anaheim Angels
Much ado was made when Dallas McPherson hit a home run off Randy Johnson when the Big Unit was rehabbing, and it started to tell the story on McPherson’s power potential. The third basemen his twenty-three home runs last season, but about half of those was in a red-hot twenty game span. He walked enough to keep his OBP over .400, and even stole some bases. The Texas League proved to be no contest, as his OBP and BB/K all improved after promotion.
*- The Angels spent a lot of money, and as a result, likely won’t be able to afford Troy Glaus after this season. Anaheim is hoping McPherson continues to hit well, as he’ll likely be handed the starting job next season.
34. Gavin Floyd- RHP- Philadelphia Phillies
That 2001 draft just can’t go wrong. First there was Joe Mauer, then Prior, third was Teixeira. The fourth pick was Gavin Floyd, a high school pitcher that the Phillies would give more money than any draft pick they’ve ever had. He’s done a good job as a professional, and despite a record under .500, was very successful in the FSL. His low K/9 scares me, but Floyd’s calling card is control anyway. His fantastic curve should yield more strikeouts, but Floyd’s potential is enough to warrant this selection.
*- Floyd seems to be doing a level a year, and should spend much of 2004 in AA. The Phillie rotation will likely lose Kevin Millwood and Eric Milton after next season, possibly making way for Floyd.
35. Scott Hairston- 2B- Arizona Diamondbacks
Hairston shows up really high on a lot of prospect charts, despite not producing like he should have last season. Hairston’s average was below .280, his OBP below .350. But he has much more power than the normal second basemen, is a very hot and cold player. He won’t run much, instead should produce more like a Marcus Giles-type. There are rumors that Hairston will move to the outfield because of his bad defense, but I don’t see that happening.
*- Robbie Alomar is signed for one season, and for good reason. Hairston might be sent back to AA to start the year, but the Diamondbacks will hope he hits enough to warrant a promotion. He should be the starting 2005 second basemen.
36. James Loney- 1B- Los Angeles Dodgers
One of many first basemen who endured wrist pain last season, Loney seems to have been effected the most. He only hit seven home runs in the Florida State League, but showcased his potential with more than thirty doubles. The twenty-year-old has good defense, but needs to start walking more to become a prototypical first basemen. He still has some convincing to do, but for now I’ll say that Loney is a lot closer to Will Clark than Casey Kotchman is.
*- Loney will be sent to AA next year, and expectations will be high. The DePodesta regime will not like a first basemen that doesn’t walk, so Loney may be in a different location when it’s all said and done.
37. Travis Blackley- LHP- Seattle Mariners
This kid may not have the potential of some pitchers, but he sure has the results. The 2003 Texas League Pitcher of the Year, Blackley led all minor leaguers with seventeen wins last year. His H/9 and K/9 were good for a soft-throwing southpaw, but Blackley understands the art of pitching. The Australian sets up hitters well, changes speeds, and throws a plus curve to strike them out. He walks more than his scouting report would suggest, but that shouldn’t be a problem at upper levels.
*- Blackley is behind Soriano and Nageotte on the depth chart, but the Mariners will stick him on Jamie Moyer in camp. Travis should have a job in 2005, unless Rett Johnson leapfrog’s the Aussie.
38. Chin-Hui Tsao- RHP- Colorado Rockies
Most rankings have Tsao much higher than thirty-eighth. But when I look at this list five years down the road, I really think this is where Tsao’s numbers belong. In terms of ceiling, Tsao’s name would come in just behind the top four pitchers listed. But, the first Taiwanese to start a Major League game will be throwing in Coors Field, a park that isn’t very good to power pitchers. If Tsao is dealt somewhere else, he belongs in the top 20, but for now, Denver drags his ranking.
*- He should start where he finished last year, which was Denver. Tsao looked mediocre when I saw him against the New York Mets last year, likely because he had tired late in the season.
39. Dioner Navarro- C- New York Yankees
The lone Yankee. I know that Dioner is not headed to the Rangers in the A-Rod deal, as the Bombers will probably send Navarro off for Jose Vidro midseason. The catcher came out of nowhere this season, but after a promotion to AA, went red-hot. In 208 Eastern League AB, Navarro his .341, slugged 19 extra bases, and controlled the strike zone well. He’s called ‘Pudgito’ for his defense behind the plate, and should be a fantastic addition for Montreal...er, the Yanks.
*- His organization will determine his future. My guess is the Yanks will send Navarro back to AA to boost his numbers (and thus trade value), but if he’s moved to another organization, could start there in ’05.
40. John Maine- RHP- Baltimore Orioles
Maine’s 2003 statistics look fake at first glance. 91 hits in 146.1 innings? 185 strikeouts but only thirty-eight walks? Can that be for real? It is, as the former collegiate starter proved to be a little too advanced for low-A hitters, and even high-A batters for that matter. Maine relies on his fastball more than most starters, and his secondary pitches aren’t refined. Look for him to struggle a bit this season, but to regain his status as his breaking pitch improves.
*- Maine will start the year in AA, and I don’t expect him to move quickly. A 2006 entrance is the most likely guess, though Maine could surprise and even end up in Camden this year.
41. Jeremy Hermida- OF- Florida Marlins
Normally grouped with Jeff Francouer, Hermida blows his fellow NL Eastern outfield prospect out of the water. Hermida looks to be a leadoff hitter in the making, as he hit for contact last season, drew eighty walks, and is fast. On the basepaths, Hermida was only caught twice in thirty tries, as good of a stolen base threat as anyone on this list. He is said to play centerfield well, and might overthrown Juan Pierre if he moves fast enough.
*- The Marlins will be sure not to push Hermida, likely scooting him along at one level a year. Pierre’s contract runs out after 2005, so Florida likely has 2006 circled on Hermida’s calendar.
42. Adam Loewen- LHP- Baltimore Orioles
I’m always hesitant to put players on this list solely based on potential, but Loewen makes me bend the rules. A 2002 draft-and-follow, Loewen signed minutes before the deadline last year as the Devil Rays were salivating with the top choice overall. The Canadian southpaw has a great fastball and curveball, and is said to throw his change up quite often. He did well in seven starts last year, but has to prove he can last a full season to become a bona fide prospect.
*- Loewen is probably on the John Maine path, which means that he’ll be sent to low-A to boost his confidence, and then get a midseason promotion to high-A.
43. Jeff Francis- LHP- Colorado Rockies
Here’s my guarantee: you won’t find another prospect ranking in the world that has Jeff Francis in the top fifty but right here. The reason behind that is an e-mail that I saved thanks to Kevin Goldstein’s Baseball America Prospect Report. In Francis’ last fifteen starts, he went 10-1, 1.06, showing the type of prospect he really is. Francis has a big body and is very durable, but needs to refine his pitches before blasting off.
*- I’m very high on Francis, and I expect the Canadian to dominate AA in 2004. With Tsao and Francis atop their rotation, the Rockies should boost that road record in coming years.
44. Merkin Valdez- RHP- San Francisco Giants
The Giants didn’t expect Manuel Mateo, a throw-in from the Braves in the Russ Ortiz deal a year ago, to contribute much to the organization. But after adding a couple of years and seeing his name changed, Valdez has skyrocketed atop the Giants’ system. El Mago was far too advanced for low-A last season, dominating in every start. Don’t be surprised if Valdez is converted to a reliever down the road, he has a very light frame and an undeveloped off speed pitch.
*- The Giants have made noise that Valdez will compete for a rotation spot, though I don’t really believe they would give him the job before he’s even touched high-A. I would test Valdez with AA this year, and maybe let him really compete next Spring Training.
45. Denny Bautista- RHP- Baltimore Orioles
No one impressed me more at the Futures Game than Denny Bautista, a huge right-hander that the Orioles acquired for Jeff Conine last season. Bautista, a cousin of Pedro and Ramon Martinez, throws a fantastic fastball that was the best of any pitcher at the Futures Game. His curveball was impressive as well, but I won’t be shocked to see Bautista to become a reliever. Adding control and weight to his repertoire would make Denny a top-notch prospect.
*- While his H/9 and K/9 were good in AA, a 3.71 isn’t acceptable for a prospect. Bautista will go back to AA this year, moving from the Southern League to the Eastern League. With the Orioles horrendous pitching staff, Bautista could be starting come August.
46. Ryan Wagner- RHP- Cincinnati Reds
Cincinnati was justified in choosing Ryan Wagner from the University of Houston last year, as no other draftee was even as close to being ready as Wagner. Ryan broke Billy Wagner’s NCAA record of strikeouts per nine innings last year, and his slider continued to strike people out in the Major Leagues. I was lucky enough to watch Wagner on TV for one of his four Major League innings, and I was left very impressed. His fastball/slider combo could make him a top-20 reliever this year.
*- Unfortunately, the word from Reds camp is that Danny Graves will become the Reds closer, and not Wagner. Rumors of moving Ryan to the rotation have been squashed, and Wagner should become closer as soon as Graves proves to be terrible.
47. Jason Stokes- 1B- Florida Marlins
This is when sensational power overrides all else. My senses tell me that a first basemen that hit .258 in high-A, and then .145 in the AFL should be ignored. But Stokes smacked 48 extra-base hits last year with a bum wrist, which is the reason I speak of his fantastic power. Stokes struck out 135 times in the regular season, and more than 35% of the time in the AFL. His plate discipline is terrible, but as long as Stokes can hit the ball four hundred feet, he’ll stay on my list.
*- The Marlins might want to consider sending Stokes back to high-A next year, as Hee Seop Choi allows them to take it very slowly with Stokes. Rushing someone with this potential would be foolish.
48. Felix Pie- OF- Chicago Cubs
In his short time as a professional PEE-ay has drawn the comparisons to fellow Dominican outfielders Vladimir Guerrero and Sammy Sosa. I disagree wholeheartedly with that presumption, Pie will never have that type of power. Instead, I expect Pie to be a leadoff hitter down the road, though he has a ways to go. He got caught thirteen times in thirty-two stolen base attempts last year, a number much too high for someone with his speed. But Felix plays the best outfield defense in the minors, and isn’t as immune to walking as Guerrero and Sosa were at this age.
*- Pie will move to high-A next year, but the Cubs will be much more open to a promotion is he succeeds. The team expects Felix to move Corey Patterson to left field down the road, but that’s not until 2007.
49. Blake Hawkesworth- RHP- St. Louis Cardinals
Before Wainwright came onto the scene, Blake Hawkesworth was all the Cardinals had in their minor league system. Hawkesworth is very similar to former top prospect Dan Haren in size and performance, and could have the same type of meteoric rise to the Majors. Blake has a very good curveball, and low to mid-90s heat. His peripherals were good in high-A, and Hawkesworth was far too advanced for Midwest League hitters.
*- The Cardinals will likely send Hawkesworth back to high-A, but I suspect Blake will be in AA by July. A mid-2005 call-up is probable, but you won’t see Hawkesworth regularly in Busch Stadium until 2006.
50. David DeJesus- OF- Kansas City Royals
Another sabermatrician dream, all DeJesus has to do is keep his OBP above .400, and he’ll keep coming up in the rankings. Like Jeremy Reed, DeJesus plays defense and occasionally steals bases on instincts, but doesn’t nearly have the tools that other players on this list do. DeJesus can do just about everything on the baseball diamond, and even showed a power spike in the Arizona Fall League. If he could keep that up, the town of Kansas City could forget about Carlos Beltran very quickly.
*- DeJesus will start the year in Omaha, but isn’t likely to finish there. He’ll replace Beltran in center in 2005, and is probably the favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year that year.
That’s the top 50, please leave any comments, questions, or suggestions in the comment box below...