WTNYJuly 15, 2004
WTNY Midseason 75
By Bryan Smith

First of all, let me thank everyone for the comments in the last two posts, its been great to get a discussion going. I love knowing there is a place for talk on minor league baseball, and I hope this can become a home for that. While I had planned on following up the top forty with comments on the honorable mention, your interest sparked me to rank further, going down to 75 this week. Response to this will decide whether or not I make a third installment.

While I love the constructive criticism and differing opinions (rather than the plain, old, this list sucks), I should have laid groundwork for my decisions before unleashing the top forty. This is a midseason ranking list, and like Aaron Gleeman stressed in his ML All-Star picks, you cant overvalue half a season. I took previous performance very seriously, trying to mix 2004 and the past evenly. This explains why Joel Guzman is low, and Josh Barfield isnt gone. I expect a ton of differences this winter, when 2004 gets weighed more heavily.

And now, lets get to prospects 41-75:

41. Ian Stewart- Colorado Rockies- 3B

The tenth pick in last years frat, Stewart has already displayed the most power from the 2003 draft. That kind of raw power, mixed with the thin air of Colorado, just might produce some freakish results. Stewart has more upside than Jeff Salazar and Jeff Baker, with a lot less polish. Ian will surely force Baker to pick up another glove, perhaps learning the art of left field. Stewarts Sally League numbers are excellent, but just that, low-A numbers. I always try to take it with a grain of salt, but if he tops thirty home runs, that may not be an option.

42. Joel Guzman- Los Angeles Dodgers- SS

Looking at Joel Guzmans past numbers, you might be shocked at the year hes having. But ask the Dodgers, who signed him for millions at age 16, and theyll say it was only a matter of time. Its hard to say where Guzman fits in as a prospect, hes always looked overmatched until May of this year. His numbers seem similar to Franklin Gutierrez of 2003, meaning his .530 SLG will evaporate at higher levels. This hardly eliminates him from prospect status, as good contact, fielding and baserunning shortstops are hard to find. Few second halves will have more of a bearing on winter rankings than Guzmans.

43. Jake Stevens- Atlanta Braves- SP

Brad Thompson, who will appear later on this list, was hyped more than many minor leaguers ever see with his 50+ IP scoreless streak earlier this season. Jake Stevens didnt get the same attention, but between May 21 and July 10, Stevens didnt give up a run either. In fact, the game that ended in was a five inning start in which the southpaw gave up one run, while striking out eight batters. His numbers have been superior to teammate Chuck James, and given Stevens age, his prospect status is rising.

44. Rickie Weeks- Milwaukee Brewers- 2B

Life cant be easy for Rickie Weeks. Now dont get me wrong, Im not making excuses for what has thus far been a sorry season, but his life has been non-stop ever since being chosen second in last years draft. A sensational player at Southern University, Weeks has struggled a bit in the Southern League, with a season line of .253/.369/.379. The Isolated Power is a little bad, but Weeks is a middle infielder, and he does have 25 extra-base hits. Things are going to click in the second half for Rickie Weeks, and I bet hes in my top 30 at seasons end.

45. Guillermo Quiroz- Toronto Blue Jays- C

Since falling victim to a collasped lung at the end of last season, Quiroz hasnt had the best health, falling victim to yet another injury this year. It doesnt effect his long-term status, and he should have a fine second half. Kevin Cash, who had been projected to give Quiroz competition for PT, has been terrible for the Jays, basically handing the job to Guillermo. With Alexis Rios, Gabe Gross, and Quiroz projected to be in their lineup next year, and possibly Russ Adams and Aaron Hill as well, the Jays rebuilding can begin right now.

46. Chris Burke- Houston Astros- 2B

Is there a dreamier leadoff prospect out there than Chris Burke right now? The Astros will almost surely let Jeff Kent leave in 2005, letting their top prospect take the job up the middle. They are right in believing hes ready for the job, as evidenced by his .325/.403/.507 line in the PCL this year. I dont think the power surge will last in the Majors, but he might get to about 40 doubles some season, which aint bad either. Throw in the fact that he stole 22 bases before being called up, and youve got the 2005 Astros leadoff man.

47. Kyle Davies- Atlanta Braves- SP

I asked my friend Brad Dowdy about his thoughts on the three Braves pitchers in this list, and this is what he said of Davies:


I could argue Davies ahead of Stevens after his two solid outings since being promoted to Double-A as a 20 year old. Everyone in the system has always known he has the stuff, it was just a matter of getting innings under his belt and the old clich of "learning how to pitch". Well, this is the season where he put it all together. He didn't even blink when he moved up a level, and I don't see any reason why that won't continue.

48. Dioner Navarro- New York Yankees- C

Despite some power struggles this year, its hard to make a claim that someone other than Dioner Navarro is the top Yankees prospect. 2004 numbers explain why hes behind Justin Huber and Daric Barton in terms of catching prospects, though that is very subject to change. In contrast, Navarro is behind Jeff Mathis and Guillermo Quiroz because of potential...particularly power potential. I like Navarros discipline, I think more of his contact abilities than a .271 average suggests, and have heard him to be an average defender. Power isnt essential for a top 50 prospect, but a better ISO than .098 would be big here.

49. John Van Benschoten- Pittsburgh Pirates- SP

After obviously passing the Eastern League test, I was a little worried when John Van Benschoten struggled when reaching AAA. But things have picked up lately (excluding his last start), and John has an ERA sitting right around 4.00. Van Benschoten will have every opportunity in the world to make it with the Pirates, and given the right patience, I think he will. Unless VB has a big August, I doubt theyll call him up, waiting for mid-2005 for his arrival.

50. Ryan Howard- Philadelphia Phillies- 1B

Is there a better prospect in minor league baseball thats as blocked as Ryan Howard? While a perfect world wouldnt have the every prospect is trade bait mentality, I can understand if Ed Wade is willing to trade Howard, despite beind on his way to crushing the AA home run record. The power is unbelieveable, and unmatched by any prospects on this list. But, Howard strikes out a lot, and could reach the 150 plateau this year. He reminds me of a modern day Frank Thomas, not the 90s superversion: volatile average, lots o power and walks, and unlike Frank, tons of Ks.

51. Josh Anderson- Houston Astros- OF

While us sabermatricians try to act as scouts by analyzing numbers, it takes a Josh Anderson type to respect the real scouts. In last years draft, Anderson lasted until the fourth round, hardly the spot for a top 50 prospect. This is a situation when power isnt key, when a .101 ISO on a .324 average will more than suffice. Why? At centerfield, Anderson is being groomed for the leadoff spot, where a .402 OBP and nearly fifty steals will pay off. Anderson, currently on the Reed path, should be ready for Houston in 2006, so dont blame him for wanting Carlos Beltran to change addresses.

52. Chuck James- Atlanta Braves- SP

Twenty-two is a bit old for the Sally League, and that was evident in the numbers for Chuck James. Before being moved up to Myrtle Beach, James was 8-2, with a 1.90 ERA, good for third in the league. James walked a bit too many considering his age, something to look for in higher levels. Also concerning is the fact that James has been suspended for much of the last month for unknown reasons. According to No Pepper, the ban was lifted yesterday, and well see if the Braves ever leak out just why this happened.

53. John Hudgins- Texas Rangers- SP

This convinced me: "I've never seen a better pitching performance in the minor leagues. Hudgins put every pitch where he wanted it, commanding a fastball that sat around 90 most of the night, mixing in a decent curve, and showing San Antonio hitters as dirty a changeup as those of them who eventually get to the majors might ever see. He dealt. He orchestrated. He was Greg Maddux."

- Jamey Newberg, Newberg Report (7/2/04)

54. Mike Hinckley- Montreal Expos- SP

Think Travis Blackley, without the strikeouts. While Hinckley has decent stuff, its hardly comparable to other guys on this list, but he always gets it done. After a 2.61 ERA in 10 Florida State League starts, Hinckley was moved to Harrisburg, where his ERA is a near-identical 2.58. His K/BB is more than 3.00, and his WHIP is 1.04. In my opinion, this is a time where pure stuff is just not going to win, and Hinckleys pitchability makes him a good prospect.

55. Chris Seddon- Tampa Bay Devil Rays- SP

Dan Feinstein, a reader who also owns Montgomery Biscuits season tickets, wrote up this great scouting report on Seddon:


Seddon pitched against the Greenville Braves here on Thursday night [ed. Note: May 27]. I went to the game. Seddon was much smaller than I expected. He is listed at 6'3" 170, but if I had to guess, I would have pegged him at 6'0" and even lighter than the program had him. He worked from the third base side of the rubber and used a lot of 12 to 6 breaking curve balls to befuddle the Braves, striking out 12 in 6 innings. His fastball was well targeted, but not too quick.

56. Robinson Cano- New York Yankees- 2B

In the comments section, reader Fabian tried to convince me to place Cano in front of Chris Burke. It didnt work, but I thought his argument was definitely good enough to post:


I don't see how you can have Burke ahead of Cano. Burke is 24 and Cano is 21. Burke has been at AAA all year, and Cano was at AA for the first half before being promoted to AAA a few weeks ago. On the season Burke is hitting .325 with 30 extra base hits and a 33:36 BB:K ratio in 286 at bats. Cano is hitting .306 with 39 extra base hits and a 30:44 strikeout ratio in 337 at bats. Has Burke outperformed Cano? Sure. However, given the HUGE difference in age, I think Cano is easily ahead of Burke. Were it not for Rickie Weeks' track record, I would be tempted to call Cano the No. 1 2B prospect in baseball.

57. John Maine- Baltimore Orioles- SP

Sort of like John Van Benschoten, in the respect that after posting insane numbers last year, Maine was more than qualified for the International League. Just to test it, the Orioles sent Maine to AA, where he went 4-0 in five starts, allowing 16 hits in 28 innings. It was obvious he was ready for the IL, but during his stay, Maine hasnt been the pitcher of old. A 4.52 ERA and BB/9 upwards of 4.00 are some scary statistics, but the Oriole right-hander has been turning it up lately, so well see how long this good pitching lasts.

58. Eric Duncan- New York Yankees- 3B

There is a lot to like about Eric Duncan, who has a Ryan Howard-like block up the line, almost assured of landing in a different organization at some point. Duncan was great in the Midwest League this year, and considering he had 37 extra-base hits and 38 walks in 78 low-A games, expectations are going to start raising about the teenager. But take caution, Duncan also struck out upwards of 80 times, and I have a feeling the FSL might be a little much for him.

59. Lastings Milledge- New York Mets- OF

By years end, Milledge could be sitting alongside Delmon Young as two of the best outfield prospects in the game. Milledge has five-tool capabilities that few can match, as seen in his combination of 27 XBH and 16 SB, in just 47 games. Some might be alarmed at the seven errors (high for an OF), but hes young, and easily has the ability for centerfield. But, the problem with Milledge is his plate discipline, seeing as though his BB/K is an abysmal 5/42 this season. Corey Patterson, version 2.0?

60. Adam Loewen- Baltimore Orioles- SP

I said it when I put him in the top fifty last winter, and Ill say it again, this pick is based solely on potential. But, if Loewen doesnt get his act together soon, hes going to keep falling, right off any prospect list. Im sure people will hassle me with this pick, but just wait and see on this kid, he might jump out and surprise you. By the looks of things, it seems as though the Orioles Major League control problems are falling down to the minors as well.

61. Josh Banks- Toronto Blue Jays- SP

Like John Maine, Josh Banks has seen his BB/9 rise at a higher level, and its much of the reason Banks has a 5.77 AA ERA. And like Adam Loewen, if Banks doesnt get his act together, hes gone. But, its hard to ignore that Banks was one of the FSLs best pitchers before getting sent up, largely due to a 7.50 K/BB. Its now below 2.00, and without that, Banks is just another pitcher. This is something to watch in the second half, because the Blue Jays system has taken a bit of a hit since this winter.

62. Zach Duke- Pittsburgh Pirates- SP

Ill admit, didnt really know Zach Duke before starting this list, but I sure do now. A southpaw, Duke is the definition of a midseason All-Star, and like Joel Guzman, someone who could rise with a consistent second half. Duke has a Bob Gibson-like 1.39 ERA this year, a WHIP under 1.00, and is on pace to eclipse the 200 strikeout barrier. Maybe its Duke, and not Hinckley, who makes the better Travis Blackley comparison.

63. Erick Aybar- Anaheim Angels- SS

A recent power streak, six home runs in six days, has taken Aybars HR total to nine, and his XBH total to 31. Hes leading the California League with not only his .355 average, but also his 38 stolen bases. This is good and all, but Aybar has been caught 27 times, a total that has to lead the minor leagues. Aybar struggles like B.J. Upton does at short, but for the time being, he ranks first of the Angels middle infield trio of Alberto Callaspo, Brandon Wood and Aybar.

64. Sergio Santos- Arizona Diamondbacks- SS

Consider this my due for not giving Santos props last year. You have to respect Santos, a 2002 first-round pick, already with 30 extra-base hits. Shortstops with 25 HR power dont come around everyday, so Santos has become the prime Zona prospect. Hes also been iffy at shortstop, and with a growing body, there are concerns on whether he can stay there. I think Stephen Drews defense and rise through the system will determine if Santos moves elsewhere, because he probably has the bat for left field.

65. Brad Thompson- St. Louis Cardinals- SP

Ive already touched a bit on Brad Thompson, and his remarkable scoreless streak to start the season. Hes come out of nowhere, and may end up taking a every-fifth-day starting spot before former top prospect Dan Haren. After a 1.76 ERA in AA, Thompson has struggled a bit with the Memphis Redbirds, allowing three home runs in 14.2 innings. A sinkerballer, Thompsons second half will determine whether that streak was a fluke to be forgotten.

66. Carlos Quentin- Arizona Diamondbacks- OF

One of the Tres Amigos, Quentin has seperated himself from the third member, Jamie DAntona, with a disgusting performance since their group promotion. Well, hes hit .357/.425/.529, which is very consistent with his California League line of .310/.428/.562. Quentin had Tommy John surgery last offseason, and it hasnt appeared to slow him down one bit. Imagine this lineup card in Arizona coming soon:

C- Robby Hammock
1B- Jamie DAntona
2B- Scott Hairston
SS- Sergio Santos
3B- Chad Tracy
LF- Conor Jackson
CF- Stephen Drew
RF- Carlos Quentin

Jeez, maybe theyll be back in the World Series before we thought!

67. Josh Barfield- San Diego Padres- 2B

Very susceptible to an irreplaceable drop from my prospect lists in the winter. The 2003 California League MVP, Barfield has been abysmal in the Southern League, with a line of .251/.316/.431. I actually have high hopes, because those numbers are up across the board in the last two weeks, so like Rickie Weeks, Barfield may be prime for a big second half.

68. Lou Palmisano- Milwaukee Brewers- C

Sweet Lou has not slowed down since being drafted by the Brewers last season. After taking home a short-season MVP trophy last year, Palmisano is making a strong bid to get his name on the Midwest League ballot with a .301/.383/.398 line. The sub-.100 ISO is always concerning, but as I said with Dioner Navarro, power isnt THAT important for a catcher anyway.

69. Chad Billingsley- Los Angeles Dodgers- SP

Logan White likes to ruffle feathers with first round picks, and thats what the team did by choosing Chad Billingsley in the first round last year. Generally considered a second rounder, the Los Angeles scouting team fell in love with Billingsley, and apparently for good reason. Hes been ridicuilous in the Florida State League this year, allowing 61 hits in 85 innings, while striking out 103. The 48 walks are a little high, but consider Chad on the Greg Miller path...hopefully that wont lead to injury.

70. Brandon Moss- Boston Red Sox- OF

And finally, a prospect from Beantown. I expect to see the Red Sox system start to improve from the bottom up, and it seems like Brandon Moss will be the first to make that happen. After struggling months after being drafted last year, Moss is in full-breakout mode in the Sally League, where he leads the league with a .366 average. Toss in the 41 walks, 35 extra-base hits and 17 steals, and you got one complete player. MVP! MVP! MVP!

71. Brian Anderson- Chicago White Sox- OF

Co-Prospect Ryan Sweeney got all the Chicago buzz this Spring Training, prompting rumors that the 19-year-old might land in AA, blah, blah, blah. But while Sweeney has been overmatched this year, it has been FIRST-round pick, Brian Anderson, that has emerged as the clubs top prospect. Anderson got promoted to AA following a .319/.394/.531 line as a Winston-Salem Warthog, hitting 22 doubles and stealing 10 bases. Anderson will be ready in 2006, when the White Sox are ready to start picking up the scraps that some call Joe Borchard.

72. Abe Alvarez- Boston Red Sox- SP

Every ranking I ever make, I gotta have a pick based on my instincts. This winter, I put Jeff Francis in my top 50 and Bobby Brownlie in my top 90, just because I thought they were ready for big years. In my mind, Abe Alvarez may never be a great #1 starter, but hell be a great innings-eater in the background. Alvarez has been unspectacular so far this year, but his H/9 is less than 9.00 and hes got a K/BB of more than 3.00. Maybe Ill be wrong here, but I really think the Red Sox should consider replacing Bronson Arroyo with Abe Alvarez in 2005.

73. Val Majewski- Baltimore Orioles- OF

Hes not going to end up in center, watching seven innings of the Futures Game could have told us that. But Majewski, as John Sickels predicted, has broken out this year, becoming the top Oriole position prospect. Majewski is hitting for average (.300), and power (12 HR), all while stealing some bases (10). Hes shooting up the system, and could be ready by mid-2005.

74. Denny Bautista- Kansas City Royals- SP

I was taken aback by Bautista at the 2003 Futures Game, where I saw him as the most intimidating pitcher out there. He was last years version of Jose Capellan, and I wont forget that anytime soon. Trading Bautista for Jason Grimsley is grounds for firing, because I think Bautista will turn out to be a good one, whether in the bullpen or the rotation. Hes been fantastic since joining the Royals, what with a 1.61 ERA in four starts, allowing just 18 hits in 28 innings.

75. James Loney- Los Angeles Dodgers- 1B

For his sake, I will let James Loney hang on by the thinnest of margins. He could turn into a great player, or he could be a complete bust, of which hell define further with his second half play.

Five that missed: Melky Cabrera (NYY), Tom Gorzelanny (PIT), Gabe Gross (TOR), Jonathan Broxton (LA), Chuck Tiffany (LA).

Leave more comments below, and the next time I check back (probably Monday), Ill have a recap of the top 75.

Comments

Love the list. What do you think of Yankees 3B Bronson Sardinha? Not saying he belongs, but just wondering what you think.

Well, it's odd. He showed absolutely no power in 248 FLorida State League at-bats, hitting a total of two home runs. But since moving to Trenton, Bronson has four homers in 74 at-bats. If the power stays, that mixed with his contact ability and plate discipline makes him a good hitter. If not, he fades into oblivion. It also hurts that he's terrible at third base. But, some team is going to love this bat, and I can't blame them too much for that.

I agree with your assessment. Sardinha, while never a HUGE power guy, had never shown that much of a lack of power before and it was somewhat disturbing. His glove definitely will decide his future. Considering him as a 3B though, it looks like the Yanks are cornering the market on that position from A-Rod to him to Duncan to Vechionacci.

Nice to see Melky Cabrera get some love.

The Ryan Howard-Frank Thomas comment seems pretty ridiculous. Thomas is one of the best hitters in the game still. What led you to make this comparison?

Though I don't think he has the body of work to be a top prospect yet, I would like to hear what you think of Battle Creek Yankees pitcher Abel Gomez, or his teammate Tyler Clippard for that matter.

Fabian, I think you missed my point on Ryan Howard. I am hardly thinking that Howard profiles to be the next Frank Thomas, instead saying they have similar skillsets. Thomas no longer hits for average like he once did, but he can walk, and he can tear the cover off the ball.

As for the pitchers, both were great in the GCL last year, and have been decent this year. The K/9 looks great on both, but Gomez walks too many and Clippard is too hittable. With those numbers, Gomez looks to be the type that might turn into a reliever down the road. Clippard has nice control, but 103 hits in 91. 2 innings is too much in the Midwest League.

I didn't miss the point, I just think it is really off. Howard does not walk much and strikes out a ton, Thomas walks a lot and does not strike out excessively. I don't see how those are similar skill sets. Perhaps you could explain more or provide evidence.

Bryan, you have some great commentary on minor league prospects, but you could really improve the quality of your work by incorporating just a bit of text formatting. Since your columns tend to run long (and that's not a bad thing), they have readability problems since there is nothing to visually break up the blocks of text.

Even simply bolding the player names in the rank list or using consistent indent tags to offset your comments would greatly improve the page presentation.

For some suggestions, check out what your colleagues on A-B do to help present the information. You have a great thing going here; tweaking the visual elements can make it just that much better.

Great work Bryan...would love to see you continue to a Top 100...some DMB leagues i am in are drafting entire minor league teams so your info has been invaluable...Keep up the great work...

ERC--
Thanks very much for the suggestion, I think you'll see that evident in my work down the road. It is comments that like which will make this a better site.

Wow! I've been quoted! And to think my wife thought those season tickets were an expensive waste of money.

Nice work Bryan.

Would it be possible to rank all the organizations systems? I'd also like to see some analysis on the coaching and developmental strengths of each organization. For instance, I've heard that part of the reason the Braves has a consistently strong farm system is due to their ability to coach and teach draftees how to play. Is there any truth to this claim?

The list was a really interesting read. Keep up the good work

I've gone over the list several times and appreciate what you have done, but I have to think the omission of Jose Lopez is an accident, especially since he is mentioned elsewhere. Granted he is currently on the DL, but an 18 year old SS (maybe 3b) in AAA hitting 279 w/11 hrs and a 14/25 bb/k ratio in 219 ABs should make any top 75 list.

Paul--
I appreciate the Jose Lopez comment, but I am going to have to disagree. Lopez might be in my top 100, but I can't guarantee that either. The fact is that Lopez is now 20 years old, and while that's still young for the PCL, I'm sick of it being used as an excuse. His numbers are good, but not great, as the OBP still lies below .330 for the season. His numbers in 2003 were even less impressive, as evidenced by the .706 OPS. I saw this as a put up or shut up year for Lopez, and he hasn't awed me too much. A higher OBP is needed for Lopez to break my top 75 anytime soon.

You have Ian Stewart ranked ahead of Eric Duncan, which is fine in my opinion. However, noting that you do look at BPro's future DTs, what do you think of that system favoring Duncan by a decent margin as Stewart does not even make the top 30 and Duncan is in the top 15 I think.