WTNY Midseason 75 (30-1)
I'll jump right into it today, as we complete my midseason rankings. Any questions regarding the statistics listed can be answered by reading the beginning of yesterday's column. Next week, I'll answer a few of the questions in the comments, and give a brief honorable mention list.
30. Joel Zumaya: Detroit Tigers (SP)- 20
Struggled in his first AAA start, struggling with what else...control. I have reservations that Zumaya might just be the 2005 Capellan, with a move to relief around the corner. But to his credit, he seems more confident in his curve than Jose ever was, and the Tigers seem committed to giving him a feel for the change. I have mentioned left-handed trios a few times in the past two days, but how about the Tigers from the right side: Zumaya, Verlander, Bonderman?
29. Brian McCann: Atlanta Braves (C)- 21
Still the top catching prospect in baseball, and despite a solid Major League stint, has just not received a lot of publicity this year. His power is tops at his position in the minors, and still on the verge of really showing itself. Still, despite his ceiling, you have to wonder which route the Braves will go: McCann or Johnny Estrada. Even with all the mixing and matching of 2005, I expect the Braves to go the safe route, and open next year with Estrada.
28. Brian Anderson: Chicago White Sox (OF)- 23
Sort of the name everyone has forgot about, Anderson has gone about his business this year, and proven he's pretty much ready for the Majors. Saying Chris Young is the club's top outfield prospect is negligent, because Anderson has done nothing to lose the title. How the White Sox will solve their OF situation in the next two years is about as interesting as the middle infield depth problems in Seattle and Anaheim.
27. Jon Papelbon: Boston Red Sox (SP)- 24
Passed by Lester for the Sox top pitching prospect honors, despite Papelbon having moved on to the International League. Peter Gammons has mentioned that the Sox might put Papelbon back to his college role -- relieving -- for this year, as his stuff out of the bullpen could help greatly. His power/control combination is pretty special, but the Red Sox need to make sure they don't wear out his arm.
26. John Danks: Texas Rangers (SP)- 20
Despite what I've heard from other people, I'm going to go with my gut here and pick Danks ahead of Volquez. A young southpaw with his kind of stuff does not come around often, so expect the Rangers to really value their former top ten pick. He dominated the Midwest League in 2004, the Cal League this year, and should do the same to the Texas League next year. The one thing he's consistent with -- and expect that to carry to the next level -- is the peripherals he can control: strikeout and walk rates.
25. Hanley Ramirez: Boston Red Sox (SS)- 21
Has to be frustrating for the Red Sox, as they never know quite what they have in Ramirez. I thought at the beginning of the year that Ramirez would replace Johnny Damon in center come 2006, but now that looks doubtful. Second base? Ehh, take the sure bet in Pedroia. If Ramirez is what it takes to get a huge deal done this July, the Red Sox should pull the trigger.
24. Thomas Diamond: Texas Rangers (SP)- 22
He's good, and is in competition right now for pitcher of the year honors in the minor leagues. But like a few others from his draft class, is in danger of the raised BB/9 after hitting AA. Patient hitters should show Diamond's true colors, which were not graded out well by a scout that Baseball America recently interviewed. Still, I think Diamond is the best of the three Ranger starters, though I have them ranked so close, it's a three-sides quarter flip on any given day.
23. Lastings Milledge: New York Mets (OF)- 20
Now that Felix Pie has broken out, Milledge fills the role that Pie has done for the last few years. We knew both were five tool talents, but the power is a question mark. It should come for Milledge as it has with Pie, but his recent move to AA might be a little soon. And while yesterday I spent imagining the Cabrera-Betancourt double play combo in Seattle, I think today will be pondering how good of an outfield Milledge, Beltran and Cameron could create.
22. Francisco Liriano: Minnesota Twins (SP)- 21
Just not what Brian Sabean wanted to see. Who would have guessed that in the quintet of Ainsworth, Jerome Williams, Foppert, Merkin Valdez and Liriano, that the latter would end up the best? Williams and Valdez have time to prove that wrong, but the prospects don't look good. And trades like what Sabean made to acquire A.J. Pierzynski are grounds for firing. My readers know I think the world of Liriano, and I believe he could make a K-Rodish difference in September. If the Twins can get any sort of haul for J.C. Romero they should do it, and break in Liriano in high pressure situations this fall.
21. Chad Billingsley: Los Angeles Dodgers (SP)- 20
Like Ian Stewart, Billingsley is coming around after his slow start, and his peripherals do speak volumes. If he can sustain that type of control, Billingsley has ace potential. But, he also could be Kerry Wood, or Kaz Ishii, or a flameout, or a bullpen ace. The most volatile player on this list.
20. Jon Lester: Boston Red Sox (SP)- 21
Is it early enough into his career to call him a notorious late bloomer? This winter, I noticed that Lester's 2004 season was masked by two awful starts to begin the season. This year, if not for a just-OK April, Lester would be right up there in the minor league player of the year race. Since his final April start, Lester has thrown 84 innings of 1.61 ERA ball to take the Eastern League lead. During that time he's allowed just 56 hits, 30 walks and three home runs against 97 strikeouts. While the Delmon Youngs and Justin Verlanders of the world have the early grasp on player of the year, Lester certainly has a chance to be on the final ballot. He's pitched his way past Jon Papelbon for the Red Sox top prospect slot and onto their untouchables list, making Theo Epstein thank his lucky stars he didn't trade Lester in a Big Unit deal. This kid -- confident in four pitches -- has all the makings of a future star, and he is in one of the Majors' right organizations to blossom.
19. Jeff Francoeur: Atlanta Braves (OF)- 21
Now in the Majors, Francoeur homered in his first game against the Cubs. He has a bunch of flaws as a player -- both contact and selectivity -- but makes up for it in raw talent. Still, you have to wonder how long we'll be justifying walk rates with that comment. The Braves are huge believers in Francoeur, and have all-but-decided that he, Kelly Johnson and Andruw will make up the 2006 outfield. Expect Jeff to have the, by far, worst numbers of the group.
18. Ian Stewart: Colorado Rockies (3B)- 20
Starting to come around after a slow start, Stewart is doing just fine. Scouts and sabermatricians alike should still be drooling at what exactly Stewart + Coors will equal. A slow start both scared me a little bit, and allowed Stewart to get passed by some sensational players. If his second half goes like his last thirty games, he'll be passing them right back.
17. Andy LaRoche: Los Angeles Dodgers (3B)- 21
We could have criticized his walk rates in the FSL, but LaRoche is now proving that he wasn't walking because he was hitting everything. The Dodgers can only hope that this more complete AA version is the real LaRoche, and that by midseason next year, they have found their Adrian Beltre replacement.
16. Felix Pie: Chicago Cubs (OF)- 20
Finally having the year, it is now well-known that Pie's recent injury is the only thing holding him back from the Majors. This organization believes in him, and at this point, very well might prefer him to Corey Patterson. Look for the team to leave a spot open for Pie to snatch this winter. Or at least I hope they do. Rafael Furcal will provide better value than Juan Pierre, IMO.
15. Yusmeiro Petit: New York Mets (SP)- 20
While the home run rate might be concerning with a different player, Petit nullifies that worry with his control. His pitchability is the best of any player on this list, and the only flaw in my mind is that he's been a bit too hittable. Won't be a Major League ace, but will be just fine sitting next to Pedro in the rotation.
14. Daric Barton: Oakland Athletics (1B)- 19
Now in the Texas League, and dominating there. He is oh-so-talented, and will be quite the tandem with Dan Johnson in the 1B/DH slot for years to come. Expect Barton up by next year, at age 20, where he will continue to evoke Carlos Delgado comparisons. As good as Dan Haren has looked this year, Barton is the Beane acquisition of the winter.
13. Brandon Wood: Anaheim Angels (SS)- 20
Should we start Free Brandon Wood and Stephen Drew campaigns, or what? Wood has proven everything that he is going to in the Cal League, and Erick Aybar certainly isn't a reason to block him. Defense the only question mark on Wood's resume, although it shouldn't be enough to move him. While the left side of the Angels won't be winning any Gold Gloves from 2007-2012, few shortstop/third base combinations will hit more home runs.
12. Conor Jackson: Arizona Diamondbacks (1B)- 23
After watching Jason Bay in the All-Star festivities last week, there is no question in my mind who the answer to Peter Gammons' question, "Who will be the next All-Star in 2007?" That answer, is Conor Jackson. The Diamondback is following in the footsteps of Bay and Ryan Church after him with a wonderful PCL performance leading into the Majors. A quick chart, with each player's OPS:
Name PCL MLB JB 0.951 0.908 RC 1.048 0.924 CJ 1.015 ???
Throw in selectivity skills that are unparalleled in the minors, and you have the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year.
11. Carlos Quentin: Arizona Diamondbacks (OF)- 22
Not really doing anything wrong, Quentin still gets kicked out of the top Diamondback prospect slot. Still, Quentin is good enough for the Diamondbacks to open a hole for this winter, if not by August.
10. Joel Guzman: Los Angeles Dodgers (SS/3B)- 20
Proving that last year wasn't a fluke, Guzman has been solid all year. We haven't seen him really turn on the jets at some point, and he certainly cannot continue to whiff at a 30% rate. He's better than I gave him credit for during the offseason, but things need to start happening soon. Better contact and a defined position would be a nice start.
9. Stephen Drew: Arizona Diamondbacks (SS)- 22
OK, Arizona, just admit that Drew has proven his point. Sending him to A-ball was insulting, he is so much better than that. AA is the best place to judge Diamondback hitting prospects -- the atmosphere isn't too pro-offense -- so we'll get a better idea of his ceiling soon.
8. Justin Verlander: Detroit Tigers (SP)- 22
About to receive his second Major League start, and will in all likelihood, lose his eligibility by year's end. Still, I wanted to give Verlander his due, and name him the minors third best pitching prospect. In Verlander and the two below him, I see three players that are very close to becoming Major League horses. You can bet the Tigers will be willing to send the Kenny Baughs and Kyle Sleeths of the world to the doctor if TINSTAPP is willing to keep their trio of flamethrowers safe.
7. Billy Butler: Kansas City Royals (LF)- 19
When the only knock you can find on a young player is the environment in which he plays, you are nitpicking. Butler, no matter the position, has the makings of becoming a future batting and home run champion. Jim Thome comparisons still apply, as I believe that Butler will still end up at first base. If it is left field, how about Carlos Lee? Just a wonderful pick by the Royals last year...wonderful.
6. Matt Cain: San Francisco Giants (SP)- 20
One tough pitching environment, so I'm willing to give Cain some slack. But that walk rate is concerning, as are the number of home runs (to a lesser degree). This organization needs to put some validity into their player development system by having Cain turn into the player he can be. Letting him spend his final 4-5 starts in the Majors, with a big league pitching coach, might just be what the doctor ordered.
5. Jeremy Hermida: Florida Marlins (OF)- 21
He's stealing again, which really makes Hermida the minors top five-tool talent. Where he fits into the Marlin OF mix (he could replace Cabrera, Pierre, or Encarnacion) remains to be seen. But they will find him a spot. And if the Marlins decide to make Hermida their number two hitter -- which is the choice I would ultimately reccommend -- expect opposing pitchers to be awful scared of facing Hermida, then Cabrera, then Delgado. Yikes.
4. Prince Fielder: Milwaukee Brewers (1B)- 21
Does anyone else notice that Fielder really performs when the lights are on? His first full season, Fielder was being watched closely, and ended up winning the Midwest League MVP by a landslide. So while people turned their heads a bit last year, Fielder's play dropped a bit. Then he got the call to big league spring training, and impressed everyone through the first two weeks of exhibition games, where there was talk of moving Overbay...quickly. But then Prince cooled considerably towards the end. Now after just going through the motions in the PCL this year, we again saw Prince's potential in a recent Major League call. If he can put it all together at once...watch out.
3. Andy Marte: Atlanta Braves (3B)- 21
Sort of the opposite of Fielder. Where Prince disappointed with his AAA play this year, but then lit up the Majors, Marte was just the opposite. Brought up to replace an injured Chipper Jones, Marte showed signs of being rushed in the worst way. Still, he's playing very well in AAA, and sooner or later, that will pay off. Not only do the Braves have some catching decisions to make this winter, but they also need to choose two from Marte, Jones and Adam LaRoche.
2. Felix Hernandez: Seattle Mariners (SP)- 19
Back now from an injury that had him out most of June. The Mariners are intelligently babying him, as they haven't with so many prospects in the past. Like Cain he has had a concerning walk rate this season, but that is really the only thing that has been wrong...besides his health. He should finish the year in Seattle and open next year there, hopefully to a hero's welcome each time.
1. Delmon Young: Tampa Bay Devil Rays (OF)- 19
Now moved up to AAA, Young is a stronger walk rate from being a flawless prospect. This September, I'm a Devil Rays fan. Let me go out on a limb and say supplanting Damon Hollins shouldn't be the most difficult thing Young has ever done. He's a fantastic talent, and was the right choice in the 2003 draft. Tampa fans can't ask much more than that from the front office.