WTNY Midseason 40
This winter, I tried making a prospect list for the first time. I learned a ton, about mixing statistics with scouting reports, putting hitters and pitchers together, and the volatility of a teenage pitcher. I learned from the injuries of Dustan McGowan and Greg Miller, as well as the breakouts of David Wright and Jeff Francis. I doubt many people pay attention to the Baseball America Prospect Report as well as I do, and slowly but surely, I’m becoming the prospect maven I never thought I’d be.
With that being said, below are my top forty prospects in the minor leagues. To make a note, I have left off any player that has graced a Major League roster this year (before July 1), eliminating Justin Moreneau, Casey Kotchman, Edwin Jackson and others.
1. B.J. Upton- Tampa Bay Devil Rays- SS
There really is no question about this one. Upton is everything you want in a premium prospect: he’s young, advanced, plays a premium position, has plate discipline and power. He can steal a base, and when he gets focused, can field. The last comment will no doubt be debated by some, but Wait ‘Til Next Year correspondent Daniel Feinstein assures me that highlight reel plays come as often as errors with this kid. Upton will reach the Majors by year’s end, and the Devil Rays slow advancement to a legitimate team will take a huge growth.
2. David Wright- New York Mets- 3B
No player has vaulted himself so far forward as David Wright has since the end of the 2003 season. A great Arizona Fall League put Wright into the top five for third base prospects, and his insane .363/.467/.619 line in AA makes him the top. Like the man in front of him, Wright has all the tools, but the most amazing fact is that he already has 48 extra-base hits, 47 walks and 22 stolen bases. Wright will be changing the scope of the Mets lineup by August, and comparisons to Scott Rolen and Howard Johnson are still valid.
3. Dallas McPherson- Anaheim Angels- 3B
I admit, I didn’t buy much into the McPherson hype before the season, remembering it was a huge hot streak that made his numbers last year, as opposed to a consistent hot streak. That all changed this year, and McPherson has already earned a promotion to AAA following his 20 home runs and 1.064 OPS in the Texas League. He’s off to a hot start at Salt Lake, hitting five homers in his first ten games. McPherson will help replace Troy Glaus for the rest of the year, and also make him expendable in 2005.
4. Felix Hernandez- Seattle Mariners- SP
King Felix made great impressions in a brief stint as a 17-year-old last season, and nothing has changed this year. Seattle thought moving Hernandez to high-A would be a challenge, similar to what Bill Bavasi had done with players like Greg Miller in Los Angeles, but Hernandez was more than enough for California League hitters. Hernandez struck out 114 batters in just 92 innings, while only allowing 85 hits, five home runs and 26 walks. His first start in the Texas League was impressive, but the Mariners might think about shutting Hernandez down the closer he gets to 150 innings. Waiting until mid-2005 for his debut would be a smart move.
5. Andy Marte- Atlanta Braves- 3B
I said before the season that Marte was likely to have a catastrophic rise to the Majors similar to Miguel Cabrera in 2003, but a severe ankle sprain has prevented that from becoming truth. His numbers weren’t jaw-dropping before the injury, but a .237 ISO is enough for me. Marte is still only twenty years old, and it is probable that Marte and Chipper Jones will make up the 2005 Braves corners.
6. Grady Sizemore- Cleveland Indians- OF
Don’t be thrown by Grady’s numbers, they are among the most deceiving in the minor leagues. A bad wrist hindered his numbers for April and May, but a June average near .400 took the overall line to .306/.372/.462. Sure, these aren’t bad numbers, but my argument is they are hardly indicative of where Sizemore stands as a player. He profiles to be a perennial .300 hitter, and with the Indians weakest position being centerfield, his path is clear as day.
7. Jeff Francis- Colorado Rockies- SP
There is nothing I’m more proud of about my first prospect ranking than putting Jeff Francis in the top fifty. This was an extremely controversial choice, but the way Francis finished the season convinced me that he was primed to break out. And that he has done, so much so that if the season ended today, Francis would have the Texas League pitching triple crown. Twelve wins, 2.11 ERA, 133 strikeouts. When you consider he’s only walked 22 in 106.2 innings, you might think he’s perfect. But like any other prospect, he doesn’t come without flaws. Francis has allowed nine home runs this year, and his future currently stands to be in Coors Field, which does more than a little to his projectability.
8. Jeff Mathis- Anaheim Angels- C
This may be a little high for Mathis, but the top ranked catcher gets a little boost in my mind. Mathis has slowly become a very good defensive catcher, and while Angel pitchers might miss Bengie Molina, Jeff’s bat will make them forget quickly. His .788 OPS is hardly anything to brag about, but he has an ISO of .176 and is on pace for about 70 walks. Few teams can put their catchers towards the middle of the order, but it won’t be long before that luxury is available to the Angels. Mathis will need one more year in the minors, but I really believe he’s ready.
9. Prince Fielder- Milwaukee Brewers- 1B
Another controversial choice here, as Fielder’s .801 OPS is well below others on this list. But remember, Prince is still just a baby in prospect terms, and he’s doing this well for a guy in the Southern League. Cecil’s son has lost weight, but has also slipped considerably since a red-hot April. Fielder still has a .192 ISO, plays a decent first base, and should hit thirty home runs before 2004 ends. He’ll also take a little longer than expected, not debuting until 2006, or becoming a permanent mainstay until 2007. That’s a recurring trend around a lot of the Brewer prospects, a system that has taken a bit of a hurt this year.
10. Cole Hamels- Philadelphia Phillies- SP
I ranked B.J. Upton first on this list for a reason. I think he’s going to be an All-Star, bringing back the numbers that A-Rod, Jeter and Nomar touted in their hey-days. So, when reading Upton say that Cole Hamels was the best pitcher he had faced, I was shocked. Hamels, when healthy, has control of one of the game’s best change ups, and it won’t be long before that reaches the Major Leagues. Problem is, Hamels has only made four starts this season, and no matter how well they have gone, we can’t get a great read of where he’s at. This is my riskiest ranking, but instincts will allow him to round out my top ten.
11. Franklin Gutierrez- Cleveland Indians- OF
Sure, Gutierrez is hardly hitting home runs like he did last season, but I wouldn’t count those kind of numbers out in the future. Gutierrez hit so well in AA this season that he was recently moved up to the International League, though it appears his immediate future is blocked by the Indians outfield of Lawton-Sizemore-Gerut. Gutierrez still managed 30 extra-base hits in 249 Eastern League at-bats, and while only five were home runs, I’d expect more to start going over the fence soon. I have only two real complaints about Franklin: first, his stolen base numbers are down significantly this year, and he also doesn’t walk enough yet, not even on pace to reach 50 walks.
12. Matt Cain- San Francisco Giants- SP
With Cain, the numbers speak for themselves. I can try to justify my pick by telling you that Cain mixes a mid-90s fastball with one of the game’s best curveballs, or I can just give his California League numbers: 7-1, 1.86 ERA, 58H, 17BB, and 89K in just 72.2 IP. The dominance has continued since being moved up to the Texas League, where Cain has allowed just five earned runs in his first four starts, good for a 1.88 ERA. San Francisco could use some rotation depth, so Cain will be given a shot as early as next Spring Training.
13. Dan Meyer- Atlanta Braves- SP
More astounding numbers come from the top Atlanta pitching prospect, a compliment considering that as many as six Brave pitching prospects made good arguments for this list. Meyer, who doesn’t throw spectacularly hard, was the Southern League ace in the first half, with a WHIP below 1.00 and a K/BB above seven. He struck out 86 batters in sixty-five innings, proving that he can mix control with good stuff like few other players can boast. His ceiling may not be as high as the previous four pitchers, but of the group, I’m most sure Meyer will reach his.
14. Jeff Francoeur- Atlanta Braves- OF
Yes, the Braves are back to having the game’s best minor league system. Francoeur, their former first round pick, is having a great season in a park not exactly fit for hitting. He’s the best of the three high-A outfield prospects you’ll see in the top twenty, merely based on potential. He already has 36 extra-base hits, giving him an ISO of .209. He walks about as much as Franklin Gutierrez does, numbers we hope improve as he goes up the ladder. Andruw Jones is rumored to be on the trade block, and if he goes, Francoeur will eventually replace him in centerfield. But as the Cubs have learned with Corey Patterson’s slow development, there is simply no reason to rush him.
15. Clint Everts- Montreal Expos- SP
Expos first round picks are not always justifiable, but Everts is an exception to the rule. After not pitching much last year, Everts has exploded to the tune of a 1.99 ERA. Last year’s top pick, Delmon Young, referred to him as the best pitcher he had faced yet. Everts has only given up three homers this year, and his K/BB is well over five. I’ve heard great things about his breaking ball, and there is no question that he is the jewel of a rather dry Expos system.
16. Michael Aubrey- Cleveland Indians- 1B
It’s possible that if the Indians had the first pick in last year’s draft, they still would have selected Michael Aubrey. After a fantastic college career, the Indians though high-A would be a good destination this year. They were wrong. Aubrey tore up the Carolina League, walking more than he struck out, and showing enough power to give him a .988 OPS. Aubrey was promoted to AA after only 60 games, a fantastic compliment for a position player a year removed from college. The Eastern League has proven to be a challenge, but I have no doubt that with one more year’s work, the Indians will have a new first basemen in 2006.
17. Gavin Floyd- Philadelphia Phillies- SP
No one has ever questioned the curveball of Gavin Floyd. But the Phillies, worried their prized right-hander might fall in love with the pitch, set quotas on just how often he could throw it. This is my explanation for why his numbers have never been that good, until this year. By the looks of him numbers, I would guess the right-hander can throw the curve whenever he pleases now, helping him to land a 2.86 ERA. His strikeout numbers, only 74 in 92 innings, are still a bit concerning, but his low H/9 and HR/9 numbers combat that quite nicely.
18. Jeremy Hermida- Florida Marlins- OF
Of Francoeur, Pie and Hermida, there is no question who is the most polished. Hermida has the best eye, the best ability to make contact, the cleanest defense, and the best baserunning. His stolen base numbers are down this year, but ending up with thirty stolen bases still isn’t out of the question. Power is not his defining trait, but Hermida’s .494 SLG more than holds his own for players on this list. My guess is that Hermida will follow Juan Pierre as the Marlins’ leadoff hitter, proving to be one of the best in the business.
19. Merkin Valdez- San Francisco Giants- SP
After an early season injury, El Mago started to justify the hype he garnered all of last season. Formerly Manuel Mateo, Valdez was traded from the Braves, and the deal keeps paying dividends for San Francisco. Valdez joined Matt Cain in San Jose for awhile, forming the top 1-2 combination in the minor leagues. Valdez has recently been promoted to AAA, after walking only five in the 33.2 innings he pitched in the California League. Valdez also mixes in pinpoint control, a trait that should serve him well as he beats Cain to the Majors.
20. Felix Pie- Chicago Cubs- OF
Pie’s story is a good one, a small Dominican boy who walked into tryouts with no hype, and walked out with a contract. The Cubs continue to thank their lucky stars, as Pie has continued from where he left off last year. Still a little raw, it’s near impossible to conceive what kind of player Felix will turn into. His ‘raw’ power is still just that, but it’s the great speed and defense that lands Pie on this list. Common thought is that an outfield of Patterson, Pie and Ryan Harvey will be in Wrigley shortly after Sosa’s retirement, but I’ll have to see that to believe it. One thing I do believe, is that Felix Pie is going to become one darn good ballplayer, whether he develops the power or not.
21. Scott Kazmir- New York Mets- SP
Trust me, I’m being generous ranking Kazmir this high, as everytime he pitches, I think the inevitable move to the bullpen is coming the next day. He’s been hurt most of this season, but since coming back has hardly dominated the Florida State League that we thought he mastered a year ago. Maybe Kazmir will be able to turn into Billy Wagner, but I find it hard to believe he’ll make it as a starting pitcher. For now, we wait, amazed that a southpaw so small can generate such hard power on his pitches. Kazmir needs to turn his season around in the second half, or his ranking won’t be so generous the next time.
22. Jeff Salazar- Colorado Rockies- OF
Last year it was Jeremy Reed that appeared out of nowhere, rising from Long Beach State all the way to hitting .400 in a second half promotion to AA. This year it has been another left-handed hitting corner outfielder that has surprised us with his contact and discipline at high-A. Salazar, formerly an Oklahoma State Cowboy, has now become the best Rockie position prospect, and for good reason. Salazar has a .347 average, more runs than games and more walks than strikeouts. He has 40 extra-base hits, and seventeen stolen bases, in only nineteen attempts. He looks perfect, much like Reed did last year, but I’m going to try to learn my lesson and wait before thrusting him into my top ten.
23. Jose Capellan- Atlanta Braves- SP
The fourth Brave in the top 25 is Capellan, a hard-throwing right-hander that made a mockery of high-A hitters before a promotion. Capellan, who can hit 100 mph on a radar gun, allowed only 27 hits and 11 walks in 46.1 innings at Myrtle Beach before rising to the Southern League. Capellan has stayed relatively consistent in terms of ERA and K/9 since the promotion, striking out 40 in 33.1 innings with a 2.70 ERA. There is still a possibility that Capellan will end up in the bullpen, he’s the kind that often turns into a closer, but first the Braves are going to have for Jose to slow down.
24. Jeremy Reed- Seattle Mariners- OF
The aforementioned Reed has slowed down this year, and the fact that scouts have yet to buy into the sabermatrician’s dream led to Reed’s trade from the Chicago White Sox organization. Mariner bloggers have been more than pleased to land Reed, who has 38 walks against 34 strikeouts so far this year. Reed’s contact skills have diminished a bit this year, though I look for his average to pick up a bit in the Pacific Coast League. Reed’s power numbers have increased this year, giving more hope that he’ll be able to have the numbers that corner outfielders should have. Next year Seattle will put Raul Ibanez at first base, and Reed will have every opportunity in the world to take over in left field.
25. Travis Blackley- Seattle Mariners- SP
The back-to-back Mariners may be the most advanced players on this list, seeing as though Reed’s eye is as disciplined as they come, and Blackley is more than ready for the Major Leagues. So ready, in fact, that he was moved up to the Majors this week, beating out the July 1 deadline that I set when making this list. Blackley should be up in Seattle for the rest of the year, and while his K/9 and K/BB numbers aren’t the greatest, his pitchability and curveball are both great attributes. To get back in their rightful spot on top of the AL West, Bill Bavasi is going to have to start from the beginning. They’re off to a good start.
26. Conor Jackson- Arizona Diamondbacks- OF
Doubles machine. This is what Jackson was last year after being chosen by the Diamondbacks in the draft. He was one of three corner college players chosen by the Diamondbacks, a group that Baseball America has called the Tres Amigos. Jackson is the better prospect of Carlos Quentin and Jamie D’Antona, thanks in large part to his amazing numbers this season. Before a promotion to AA, Jackson hit .345/.438/.562 in 258 at-bats. The slugging has decreased a bit since moving to the Texas League, but Jackson’s eye looks unbeatable, as his OBP is .476 after ten AA games. Jackson plays left field, and it won’t be long before the Diamondbacks firesale allows the team to trade icon Luis Gonzalez, Jackson’s lone roadblock.
27. Ervin Santana- Anaheim Angels- SP
Like many of the pitchers on this list, Santana was hurt to start the season, but has been dynamite since returning to the minor leagues. Ervin was sent back to the Texas League, where he finished out his 2003 season, and has been the Travelers’ ace through his first eight starts. I admitted in my WTNY 50 that I didn’t buy into the Santana hype much, but his numbers support the claims that people as respected as Peter Gammons have made.
28. Delmon Young- Tampa Bay Devil Rays- OF
More than any other player on this list, this choice was made due to projectability rather than a deserving ranking based on their numbers. Young’s .334 OBP would be laughed at by some players on this list, but considering his age, an ISO just below .200 is fantastic. Young’s power is immense, and his second half will determine if he makes it higher than 28 (and I think he will) when my end of year rankings come out. Young likely won’t be a D-Ray until 2008, but who knows, maybe he’ll have Josh Hamilton to join him by then.
29. Tim Stauffer- San Diego Padres- SP
I didn’t like this pick by the Padres last year, thinking Stauffer’s numbers were hardly good enough to deserve a top five selection. But Stauffer has proven differently, as he is currently pitching in the Pacific Coast League, his third league of the season. While the Padres have drawn much criticism for their handling of the top pick this year, give the team some credit for identifying Stauffer last year. The right-hander had a 1.78 ERA in the California League after six starts, and a 2.63 ERA in eight Southern League starts. His peripheral numbers aren’t great, but the guy can pitch, and he’ll undoubtedly be the first starting pitcher chosen last year to make the Majors this September.
30. Ian Kinsler- Texas Rangers- SS
A lot of the people on this list I could have envisioned breaking out before the season started, but not Kinsler. According to Baseball America, the former University of Missouri shortstop was chosen based on his defense, not his bat. But it was the bat that convinced Ranger brass that the former 17th round choice could handle a move from the Midwest League, to the Texas League. After hitting .400 as a Clinton Lumberking, Kinsler’s OPS is again above 1.000 through his first seventeen games as a Roughrider. Texas’ infield is pretty blocked, but moving Soriano to center and Michael Young to second would be a great idea to make room for their new gem.
31. Jeff Baker- Colorado Rockies- 3B
Taken alongside Jeff Francis in the draft, Baker’s breakout has been clouded by Francis’ AA greatness. But don’t forget Baker, who joins Ian Stewart and Jeff Salazar in one of the best three position player combinations in the minor leagues. His OPS is also over 1.000, thanks to 30 home run power and a great batting eye. He’s very prone to strikeouts, there is no doubt that total will reach 100 (if not 120) by season’s close. Also, Baker has already made 20 errors at the hot corner, and while I don’t have a report on him, my guess is last year’s first round pick Stewart will force a move at some point. The idea of having Helton, Stewart, Baker and Salazar on the corners just might be enough for Dan O’Dowd to hang onto his job a little longer.
32. Joe Blanton- Oakland Athletics- SP
Like I said with Delmon Young, Blanton doesn’t necessarily have the numbers to hang with other guys on this list. His ERA is nearing 4.00, and (gasp!) he’s allowed more hits than innings pitched. This is danger territory, but I’m intrigued by good control, and the ability to keep the ball out of the park, even in the Pacific Coast League. His top 40 selection is also due to the fact that even without Rick Peterson, I trust the A’s ability to develop pitchers. Billy Beane loved this guy out of Kentucky, and he’ll definitely be one of the favorites for Rookie of the Year in 2005.
33. Angel Guzman- Chicago Cubs- SP
Another pitcher rehabbing from injury, you’ll likely be taken back after reading Guzman’s rehab numbers from the Florida State League. The Cubs, who have done a good job handling sore arms of late, sent Guzman to the FSL to keep that arm warm an extra few months upon his return. While the top prospect’s 4.20 ERA is anything but amazing considering he was repeating the level, it’s his peripherals that astound me. In thirty innings, the right-hander allowed 27 hits, struck out 40, and walked zero. Once again, Guzman had a 40/0 K/BB in high-A, before being moved up to the Southern League. His high ERA tells me that his pitchability isn’t great, but expectations are still sky-high for the Cubs’ Angel.
34. Justin Huber- New York Mets- C
Being a catcher is great for a prospect, because you don’t have to have the numbers that most hitting prospects carry. Huber has slumped recently of late, but his season line of .272/.408/.460 is fantastic for a catching prospect. Huber’s defense is a bit lacking, but the Mets will concede that when considering his power and plate discipline. The Australian still must improve all facets of his game to stay on this list, because a poor second half will not only make him drop, but will cause a drop clear off the list.
35. Jason Kubel- Minnesota Twins- OF
Think Jeremy Reed 2003, without the plate discipline. Instead, Kubel has fantastic contact skills that led to a .377 average in the Eastern League before being promoted to AAA. Being an outfielder in the Twins’ organization is a death penalty, but Kubel’s 41 extra-base hits gives Terry Ryan one great piece of trade bait. This is another player on the list I forecast will drop by year’s end, but for now, I gotta give the kid his due.
36. Daric Barton- St. Louis Cardinals- C
Boy, I’ve never seen a high school kid so advanced in his first full year of professional play. Barton, about a year after being the first Cardinal drafted, is hitting an insane .331/.465/.566 in the Midwest League. Recent slumps have taken the average below .400 and the OBP below .500, but those numbers are the kind that makes someone a top prospect. I’ve heard pretty good things about his defense, but an early season injury has forced Barton to only play half of his 40 games behind the plate. Like everyone else here, we’ll have a much better feel for Barton in September, but two thumbs up so far.
37. John Danks- Texas Rangers- SP
I’m trying to be very hesitant with low-A pitchers this year, considering the early season struggles that Cole Hamels and Scott Kazmir have seen. Danks is pretty comparable to the latter, but I just can’t see not putting him on my top 40 list. The hard-throwing southpaw ate up the Midwest League in fourteen appearances, thriving off the four-man rotation style format that Grady Fuson uses in the minor leagues. Last year’s ninth overall selection has a 3.39 ERA in three starts for the Stockton Ports, but barring injury, Danks is probably a better prospect than Kinsler.
38. Yusmeiro Petit- New York Mets- SP
Soothsayers have compared Petit to Sid Fernandez, a former Major League pitcher that had fantastic numbers in the minor leagues. The reason this comparison works is Petit, like Fernandez, had unreal numbers in fifteen low-A starts. In 83 innings, Petit allowed only 47 hits and 22 walks, against an insane 122 strikeouts. For those of you scoring at home, that’s a WHIP below 1.00, a K/BB above 5.00, and a K/9 nearing 13.50. Petit finds himself below a lot of Met prospects, but if these numbers continue, he’ll head the list in the winter.
39. Bobby Brownlie- Chicago Cubs- SP
Another forecast I’m proud of, I saw very good things from Brownlie this season, and he hasn’t let me down. Like Tim Stauffer, Brownlie doesn’t have great numbers, but I guess the better comparison is Gavin Floyd. Like Floyd, Brownlie has a great curveball that has led to a high HR/9 and low K/9, but a darn good ERA. If Matt Clement leaves Chicago next winter, and that’s a very likely scenario, Brownlie will be in a race with Guzman, Ryan Dempster, and many other Cub pitchers for the fifth spot in that vaunted rotation.
40. Jesse Crain- Minnesota Twins- RP
Relief prospects are generally overrated, but Crain deserves the hype he’s gotten. After rising through three levels last season, Crain has had a home in Rochester this year, appearing in 33 games as the Red Wings’ closer. But, Crain should be preparing for a move, as the Twins could no doubt use some help in the bullpen towards the end of the year. Crain might not be the immediate closer, but setting up Joe Nathan will be a wonderful way to start what will likely be a great career.
That’s it for now, next time I’ll talk about the people that just missed this list.