WTNY Midseason 75 (75-31)
Alright ladies and gentleman, start your engines, it's list time. Finally I have my midseason top 75 all ready for viewing, and we will go through the players during the next two days. Please notice the list does not include any players drafted in the 2005 draft, or those currently playing in short-season ball. I promise to rank them this winter, but it's too early this time around.
For each player I have provided their statistics, as well as their age. The numbers I used, and the way I presented them, are pretty similar to past styles (hitters: AVG/OBP/SLG, W/K, SB in AB; pitchers: ERA H/IP K/BB HR). Today we begin the countdown with numbers 75-31, so please enjoy and check back tomorrow.
75. Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Atlanta Braves (C)- 20
Interestingly enough, Salty is a very similar player to the one he’s trying to supplant, Johnny Estrada. I really like Jarrod, and I would say there is about a decent chance that he becomes a better player than Brian McCann. Both need to work on their defense, but it appears their bats will be enough. Atlanta doesn't have very many parks that are good on hitters, Myrtle Beach being the worst, so we may not get to see Salty's true ceiling for awhile. But trust me, some of those doubles will start going over the fence soon.
74. Javier Guzman: Pittsburgh Pirates (SS)- 21
Really under the radar player that has gained my attention. I could have chosen a few middle infielders with this choice, but instead I like Guzman. Yes, more than Erick Aybar, more than Alberto Callaspo, and for the time being, more than Adam Jones. Guzman seems like he will replace Jack Wilson in short time, offering Pittsburgh a little bit of everything. Solid defense, switch-hitting, enough patience (well, in A+, not AA), very good contact, and above average power. I'm convinced.
73. Javi Herrera: Oakland Athletics (OF)- 20
Living near Kane County, I have seen Herrera a couple times this year, and he has lived up to expectations. Shows very good range and instincts in center, and his selectivity is solid. Throw in some very good speed, and Herrera has five-tool written all over him. The power is not quite there yet, but he's a well-built player, and it should come with time. The A's aren't really used to developing raw players, so it will be interesting to see how Herrera and Richie Robnett turn out.
72. Chris Lambert: St. Louis Cardinals (SP)- 22
As I have previously noted, Lambert impressed me as much as any other player in the Futures Game. He has his issues, but probably also has the best stuff in a St. Louis organization that is slowly developing some talent. If his fastball control can tighten up, Lambert is going to take off. He's not as raw as it sounded when drafted out of BC, but he's certainly not a finished project either.
71. Jason Kubel: Minnesota Twins (OF/DH)- 23
If Kubel was still a good prospect this winter, when we knew about his knee, you have to consider him a good prospect now. True tests won't be until instructional league, or the AFL, or winter ball, and we'll be watching closely. I just pray he doesn't go all Matt Whitney/Alex Escobar on us.
70. Matt Moses: Minnesota Twins (3B)- 20
Still, proving that back problems have been the cause for his previous bad seasons, after being chosen in the first round. His health puts him on this list, and Michael Aubrey off, but anyone knows back problems can arise at any time. Moses is the future at the Minnesota third base bag, only if one bad swing doesn't derail that track first.
69. Brandon Moss: Boston Red Sox (OF)- 21
Talk about a player I can't read, Moss suddenly got extremely hot this year, bringing himself from an average Eastern League hitter to an all-star. Part of me is such a huge seller of Moss that I would take David Murphy before him, but that is probably a bit extreme. Like Markakis, I'm just not sure he has the power for an outfield corner, meaning he may end up as a bench bat.
68. Glen Perkins: Minnesota Twins (SP)- 22
Along with a few others, proving accomplished college pitchers can handle high-A, but really face their first test in AA. Perkins hasn't been great in the Eastern League so far, lessening expectations that were too high during his FSL dominance. Perkins is a good middle-of-the-rotation guy, but not one that is going to save a rotation.
67. Jason Vargas: Florida Marlins (SP)- 22
Really on a tour of America this year, Vargas is currently on his fourth level of the season in Miami. He has seen success at each stop, and his first start against the Diamondbacks went fine. Four walks is way too much for five innings, and they look to be the result of falling behind in the count, in which Vargas does not pitch very effectively. A lot of people would kill for the southpaw trio of Willis, Olsen and Vargas in one rotation.
66. Cole Hamels: Philadelphia Phillies (SP)- 21
This time around I have promised myself to be cautiously optimistic on Hamels, who has made a habit of disappointing believers in the past. He has come back with the form we remembered, not showing ill effects of his broken hand. Cole is a special player that needs to avoid the health and make-up issues that have haunted his past.
65. Miguel Montero: Arizona Diamondbacks (C)- 21
The current favorite for the Reed-Kinsler breakout of the year award, Montero is now in AA after making fools of high-A pitchers. I'm more skeptical of Montero than most players on this list, but that roots more from his newfound skills than anything else. If this just had been Francisco Hernandez, I wouldn't be thinking twice about his placement.
64. Jeff Niemann: Tampa Bay Devil Rays (SP)- 22
Niemann is part of the ESP (Electric Sore Prospect) club, which I'll detail later, now that he's been sore since the end of his sophomore season at Rice. Ryan Anderson, who has been mentioned in 525,600 Peter Gammons columns, will be quick to tell Niemann that when you are 6-9, people give you some patience. My guess is that Niemann will never be the dominant pitcher we saw during his amazing sophomore campaign, one that all-but-guaranteed a top pick the following year. Amazing what difference a sore shoulder can do, huh?
63. Jered Weaver: Anaheim Angels (SP)- 22
Really coming on strong after a rough start. His pitchability is off the charts, second maybe only to Yusmeiro Petit on this list. But, his G/F that Rich listed is concerning, as is the stuff that scouts have long and outspokenly doubted. Look for him to prove the scouts wrong, settling nicely into a number two/three role in the Majors.
62. Shin-Soo Choo: Seattle Mariners (OF)- 22
I've come to two conclusions about Choo, I'm just not sure which one is right. On the one hand, what I've seen from him is indicative of his potential, a solid-hitting corner outfielder that hits better than Jeremy Reed. On the other hand, I'm just good luck for Choo, who never disappoints when I'm watching.
61. Chris Young: Chicago White Sox (OF)- 21
Simply put, Young is a dynamite prospect once you can accept him for his faults. Now it's those faults -- or more specifically, his contact skills -- that are also holding him back from becoming a top prospect. But everyone seems to be catching on to my argument that Young is a better prospect than Ryan Sweeney, because he trumps the right fielder both in power and defense...by a lot.
60. Gaby Hernandez: New York Mets (SP)- 19
Now in St. Lucie, where he replaced Philip Humber, who replaced Brian Bannister, before Humber went down with Tommy John. Most organizations would kill to have Hernandez as their number three prospect in the system, as Gaby has been a steal since being drafted. His control could stand a bit of improvement, but that's nitpicking in some pretty flawless peripherals in his first full-season league.
59. Anthony Reyes: St. Louis Cardinals (SP)- 23
I have recently determined that Reyes is one of the current top members of the aforementioned ESP club. He is joined by Angel Guzman and Jeff Niemann at the top, and they recently honored former member Bobby Bradley with an award. Reyes has been sore since his days at USC, and I'm just not sure it's going away. At this point we have to assume the worst, and accept that Reyes might just always tease us with his potential, but come up lame when it matters the most.
58. Wes Bankston: Tampa Bay Devil Rays (1B)- 21
Over at Rays Baseball, an argument has arisen that Bankston is the best first base prospect in the minors, ahead of Conor Jackson. The surprising thing is that the argument isn't too outlandish, and Bankston really does have a case. I'm a big Bankston believer, but I think that is probably a bit too over the top. Wes has been extremely impressive after a late start this year, and has caught up with the Elijah Dukes track. When they hit the Majors, meeting Delmon and Upton, this team will have no choice but to be improved.
57. Chris Snelling: Seattle Mariners (OF)- 23
Or should I say Doyle? Snelling has been lights out in his one millionth return from his two thousandth freak injury. The only thing he has to prove to be better than Eddy Martinez-Esteve, a very similar player offensively, is that he can stay health for a few months. The Mariners handled Snelling inappropriately in a recent call-up, but they sound very high on his future. I can tell you this: I'm just praying the Mariners throw Snelling and Bucky Jacobsen into their 2006 lineup...and many more after that.
56. George Kottaras: San Diego Padres (C)- 22
Similar player to Martin, because he is a very disciplined hitter with at worst, average power. Besides patience, I like Kottaras' bat more, but there is no question that Martin is the better defense. I also learned from Calleaguers.com that Kottaras is an extreme pull hitter, a flaw that must be improved in higher levels. I just wish we could put Nick Hundley's power on Kottaras, which would make him super-hitting-catching-prospect, also known as Brian McCann.
55. Adam Miller: Cleveland Indians (SP)- 20
Not back yet, so it isn't quite far to evaluate his results. In fact, it will probably be too early to do so this entire season. But he's pitching and not throwing it seems like, as his results have been good despite bad peripherals. Not sure he'll be hitting 101 again this year, but Miller is still something special.
54. Jose Capellan: Milwaukee Brewers (RP)- 24
I jinxed Jose in my relief article from a few weeks ago, in which I talked about his scoreless streak as a reliever. That has since ended, but Capellan has continued to have success in the bullpen. It's obviously a better home for him the rotation, in which he is throwing 80ish fastballs per every 100 pitches, and not with the same velocity he can bring in the bullpen. I would like to see a few more strikeouts from the closer spot, but Capellan still screams Armando Benitez to me. And I don't mean that as a bad thing.
53. Hunter Pence: Houston Astros (OF)- 22
It's hard for me to evaluate players like Hunter Pence and Eric Patterson, along with (to a lesser degree) Sergio Pedroza. These guys are simply doing what we expected, which is dominating competition that they should be dominating. But Pence is the best of the group because of his size, power and position. Before we can get a perfect handle on Pence, though, he needs a challenge.
52. Nick Markakis: Baltimore Orioles (OF)- 21
At this point, I can't decide about Markakis. Option 1, he is going to be the player he has shown in nearly a year and a half of playing time: fine hitter, but certainly not the production you would hope from a right fielder. Option 2, he is the player he was for a month or so last year, and the player I think he can be: star. It all lies in that bat, where the question will always be whether his power will play in Peoria...err, right field.
51. Asdrubal Cabrera: Seattle Mariners (SS)- 19
Probably the surprise ranking on this list, but I admit to have fallen in love with Cabrera's credentials as a prospect. Everyone I've talked to uses words like "exceptional" and "special" to describe his defense...at the age of 19. He's also proven to be versatile in the field, already playing three positions this season. But on top of that, Cabrera has shown very solid offensive skills. He makes consistently good contact, and hits for more than enough more given his position. While the patience has evaporated of late, it's still there. I can only imagine a future double play combination of Cabrera and Betancourt, who project to be one of the best defensively of this generation.
50. Eddy Martinez-Esteve: San Francisco Giants (OF/DH)- 21
A complete hitter that needs to get challenged with a promotion. EME has recently started to play the field more, as the Giants hope they can turn him into a left fielder, or at worst, a first baseman. His bat will play anywhere in the field, as it has very few flaws. Shame on 29 teams for passing on Esteve's bat because he couldn't play defense.
49. Merkin Valdez: San Francisco Giants (SP)- 23
One frustrating player. The Giants at this point must be good confused about Valdez, because they just don't know what they have. Sometimes it's a future ace, sometimes a player in need of a move to the bullpen. Sometimes, he might just be a middle of the rotation guy. But the caveat to all this is that Valdez has very good stuff, and should survive in the Majors no matter what role the Giants decide on. Expect them to keep him in the rotation until his ERA dictates otherwise, a la Capellan.
48. Ian Kinsler: Texas Rangers (2B)- 23
Some days Alfonso is as good as gone, others he's going to stay in Texas for quite some time. I'm not sure what to believe anymore, I just hope that Kinsler has a 2006 job. You can bet the Soriano rumors would be louder if Kinsler had a better OBP, but I expect that to rise along with his batting average in the second half.
47. Anibal Sanchez: Boston Red Sox (SP)- 21
Along with Edison Volquez and to a lesser degree Fernando Nieve, the three are proving that a little patience is all that is needed from live Latino arms. The most impressive thing I have seen on Sanchez is just how enthusiastic Chris Kline of Baseball America was after seeing Sanchez in the Carolina League All-Star game. I wasn't blown away with him in the Futures Game, but I certainly saw reason for excitement. He may end up better out of the bullpen, with a fantastic 1-2 punch, and certainly gives the Red Sox a good trading chip.
46. Troy Patton: Houston Astros (SP)- 19
Everyone has known the Astros had the steal of the 2004 draft since last season ended. But, for a long time, they thought that steal was Mitch Einertson. With the Appy League home run champ struggling in low-A, Patton has taken off after Houston surprisingly talked him out of a college commitment. Given his confident, solid three-pitch arsenal, expect he and Gio Gonzalez to be battling for top southpaw prospect spot very soon. Recently promoted to the Carolina League.
45. Eric Duncan: New York Yankees (3B)- 20
The Yankees are believers in Duncan, who probably should have at least started the year in the FSL. His start was very bad this year, and his numbers improve when considering that. If you simply throw out his first 55 at-bats this year, in which Duncan collected nine singles, Duncan't line improves to about .265/.360/.450. That's not great, but for a 20-year-old in AA with a lot of undeveloped power, the Yanks will take it.
44. Chuck Tiffany: Los Angeles Dodgers (SP)- 20
Very unsung player that has been really good since ending the season in the largest of ways last year. I'm concerned with the home run rate, especially considering the park and league, but everything else looks good with Tiffany. Where the team has been aggressive in the past to move such players up the ladder quickly, they seem to be learning from past mistakes. Expect Tiffany to be in Jacksonville next year, for most of the season, unless he pushes the envelope.
43. Curtis Granderson: Detroit Tigers (OF)- 24
Last year his hot streak came in August, where Granderson went from being a 100-200 prospect to landing himself in the top 75. This year, his breakout seems to be happening in July, where he is really hitting the accelerator in the International League. Like Brian Anderson, I don't see too many things wrong with Curtis, he just doesn't blow you away. And like Shin-Soo Choo, he plays a sketchy centerfield, and his defense there may just make or break his tenure as a Tiger.
42. Kendry Morales: Anaheim Angels (Corner)- 22
During the winter, we had no idea what we had in Morales, other than a few scouts claiming he would have made up for the club not signing Jered Weaver. We saw quickly that the California League wasn't tough for Morales, and the team did not hesitate correcting their assignment mistake. It appears that Arkansas will be the make or break place for Morales, as his performances have been up and down so far. We still don't really know what the Angels have in Morales...we just know it could be something very good.
41. Fernando Nieve: Houston Astros (SP)- 22
While the Astros have been very quick to aggressively promote prospects this year, they have taken the correct route with Nieve. Slow to develop in the minors, the Astros are milking Nieve's breakout in the minors. My guess is that he breaks camp with Houston next year, and should be considered one of the favorites to come second to Conor Jackson in the Rookie of the Year race.
40. Howie Kendrick: Anaheim Angels (2B)- 21
The little guy just keeps on hitting, showing his bat speed is pretty unparalleled in the minors. He fine power to go with those fantastic contact skills, putting him some patience away from the complete hitting prospect. The team was willing to push Alberto Callaspo just to keep Kendrick's path on track, so you can see they have confidence in their young second baseman.
39. Edison Volquez: Texas Rangers (SP)- 21
He wants to be Yusmeiro Petit, just does not have the same results. Volquez has been a little too hittable this year to justify Pedro comparisons, but Mr. Dominguez in the same organization can tell you that tends to happen easily. I'm not nearly as sold on Volquez as other places, since he really has not had a dominant season. I need one more dominant string of starts, at least, before I really jump on the bandwagon.
38. Edwin Encarnacion: Cincinnati Reds (3B)- 22
I agree with John Sickels that it's amazing this guy isn't believed in more than he has been. I will also admit to being a naysayer in the past, but am one that is converting. Encarnacion is very similar to Andy Marte, in the fact that he's always been solid, while kept us waiting for that huge, HUGE season. He may be a rich man's Mark Teahen in the end (a poor version of his defense), but that wouldn't be so bad. Edwin is certainly reason for the Reds to take the best offer they can get for Joe Randa come deadline. He's also reason for the Twins, Padres, and whoever else enters the fray to not offer much.
37. Gio Gonzalez: Chicago White Sox (SP)- 19
You could say that Gonzalez has had an up and down first season, but the downs are strictly small injuries that have kept him out. Besides that Gonzalez has been lights out, making mincemeat of Sally League hitters. I've said before that Johan comparisons are off, but Gio is also better than Jeremy Affeldt, a fellow southpaw with a similar hammer curveball.
36. Casey Kotchman: Anaheim Angels (1B)- 22
In danger of really slipping, Kotchman might be the disappointment of the 2005 season. It's too early to give up on him, but it looks like the Angels made the right decision to use Darin Erstad at the first base bag this year. If he finishes the season like he has started it, Howie Kendrick, Kendry Morales, Jered Weaver (to name a few) will not be behind him next time.
35. Elijah Dukes: Tampa Bay Devil Rays (OF)- 21
Let the Rocco Baldelli v. Elijah Dukes debates begin! Another debate has been happening over at Minor League Ball, where many have argued against the merits of Dukes against Lastings Milledge. The latter has a higher ceiling at this point, and that still wins out, especially considering what he's done since healing from injury. But Dukes screams out Milton Bradley to me, and has for quite some time.
34. Russ Martin: Los Angeles Dodgers (C)- 22
By far, the most complete catcher in the minors. Martin has been high on the Dodgers radar since a lights-out Spring Training, and you can bet Paul DePodesta is noticing an OBP which is about as good as anyone on this list. You can bet the Dodgers won't be spending big money on third base or catcher this offseason, as both positions should be filled by (at worst) 2007.
33. Jeremy Sowers: Cleveland Indians (SP)- 22
In a recent chat, John Manuel of Baseball America talked about how the Padres coulda-woulda-shoulda gone the safe route with Sowers last year with the top pick. The left-hander has been absolute dynamite this year, actually improving with a promotion to the Eastern League. The Indians might be daring enough to give their '04 pick a September start, as the team really gears up to win the AL Central in 2006. Sowers should help that campaign, giving the Indians a southpaw trio that matches that in Miami.
32. Phil Hughes: New York Yankees (SP)- 19
You can bet that after a string of bad drafts, coupled with a newfound Yankee dependence on the farm system, the 2003-2005 drafts are especially important for the employment of the Yankee scouting staff. With that being said, many of them are probably hanging their hats on Hughes. Early results bode well, as Hughes has quickly become the best high school pitching prospect from last June's draft. He was extremely consistent in his dominance of the Sally League, and should be ahead of Duncan on the Yankee untouchable list.
31. Dustin Pedroia: Boston Red Sox (2B)- 21
Still behind Hanley because of ceiling, but the gap has closed considerably. Pedroia is going to be the 2006 Red Sox Opening Day second baseman. And you can bet he's a sure thing to be a favorite in Boston, like David Eckstein, but with good play.
Please leave any and all minor league questions below, as I hope to make a mailbag of such comments for next week. Also, please come back tomorrow as I count down the top thirty.