WTNYJuly 11, 2006
WTNY Midseason 75 (Top Tier)
By Bryan Smith

It's hard to believe what a difference six months makes. Winter is a time for projection, for hope, a time where each prospect's cup is half-full. But thrown bats and extended slumps change everything, including the ranking of prospects.

As I have done in the past, I have once again compiled a ranking of the minors' best 75 prospects. While the name atop the list has not changed, it came with far less ease than in January. Below Delmon, everything remains in flux.

I have decided to make eligibility requirements subjective this season, opting to not include any player that should lose his prospect eligibility by season's end. Any player currently in the Majors was exempt, and many in the minors (read: Lastings Milledge) were taken off the list by my subjectivity. If, in fact, these players remain prospects for another season, you can expect they'll be back in another six months. And by then, I think we can agree, everything will be different all over again.

My thought process when ranking prospects works in tiers, and while I would normally reserve this day for a ranking of the top 25, I found it more educational to cut things off at the end of my first ranked tier of prospects. Enjoy...

1. Delmon Young, of: Devil Rays (AAA)

Following the Delmon Young press conference, I had decided Young would not be my top prospect at the midseason mark. It would be my way of not just indicting his bad showing of make-up, but his low walk and home run totals in AAA as well. Then I saw Young for the first time, the night of his first home run, and my mind was changed. The power is going to come, I promise. He's hitting .375 with seven extra-base hits and just 11 strikeouts in 19 games since returning. Minor league baseball has no better player.

2. Alex Gordon, 3b: Royals (AA)

Like I said, Young was not my first prospect three weeks ago, Gordon was. And if I had stayed with that decision, it would have been defensible. Gordon represents the best bet for success in the minor leagues; he has no discernible flaw. He's going to hit for average, a lot of power, draw plenty of walks, play steady defense, and steal enough bases to make his fantasy owners giddy. Suddenly his four figure baseball card is looking like a sound investment, no?

3. Howie Kendrick, 2b: Angels (AAA)
4. Brandon Wood, ss: Angels (AA)

Wood has done little for this order to be flip-flopped, continuing on a path to success after a ridiculous 2005. But this season it's Kendrick to take the full step forward, catapulting himself past Wood and into the top five.

Kendrick, I've said before, is a player with limited potential value. In other words, his ceiling has a roof. Confined by his own stature, there is a limit to the power Kendrick can develop in relation to Wood. However, Kendrick is nearly guaranteed to hit for a better average than Wood.

The ranking of these two players is a simple test of risk vs. reward. Kendrick offers no risk, but his reward is limited in comparison to Wood, whose ceiling is highest among current prospects.

5. Justin Upton, of: Diamondbacks (A-)

Watching Upton in person, the top overall pick from last year exudes an aura that doesn't usually follow teenagers. The aura was first evident in Spring Training, when Upton's build and bat were enough to hold his own in big league camp. He shined on the national stage, saving what some would call his best Cactus League game for a contest against the White Sox on WGN. Now far from the big stage, Upton is struggling a bit, but in seeing him, it's obvious there is more than the numbers tell us. Upton will come around, if not at the pace I thought, and when he does, sparks will fly.

6. Stephen Drew, ss: Diamondbacks (AAA)

If Drew began the season in the Arizona batting order, it would have surprised no one had he separated himself from the NL Rookie of the Year pack. Instead, the Diamondbacks chose the cautious route with their young shortstop, maintaining another year of mediocrity from the position for the betterment of their future. Good decision. Drew has progressed as expected in AAA, and he is on the right timetable to make a splash next season. A gifted offensive player, Drew has even more to show than what he has since signing in pro baseball.

7. Billy Butler, of: Royals (AA)

I have always believed in Butler's bat, and on Sunday, his performance in the Futures Game showed why this is a good idea. Butler is as good a hitter for his age as it gets, he's polished and powerful. His play in the field is a work in progress, but it's improving, even at a Carlos Lee-type rate. The most concerning blip on Butler's radar is a drastic home/road split that favors his time in Wichita. For all we know, it's nothing, but it's also worth keeping notice. Butler is going to hit in the Majors, and with Gordon, Dayton Moore's long-term vision is beginning to come in better focus.

8. Cameron Maybin, of: Tigers (A-)

There have been a lot of positives about Cameron Maybin's season, his full season debut. Any teenager holding his own in such a difficult league is worthy of praise. Maybin has also been lucky, striking out at a percentage too high to keep his batting line as high as it is. a true five-tool player, the North Carolina outfielder is far more raw than he has shown this season. But underneath it all, the Tigers - who landed the top rated player in the 2006 draft - may have landed the top player in 2005.

9. Phil Hughes, sp: Yankees (AA)
10. Homer Bailey, sp: Reds (AA)

Bailey was not an oversight in my listing of the top pitching prospects weeks ago, I told someone after that article that Bailey wouldn't rank high for me until he showed "consistent dominance." So, upon promotion, Bailey decided to go off, and currently has a 17 inning scoreless streak going at Double-A. He has earned his status as the game's 1A pitching prospect, especially after a dominating performance in Sunday's Futures Game.

Hughes was not as good on Sunday, but his stuff was solid, and you could see the makings of a very good player. Unlike Bailey he won't always necessarily amaze a scout, but his polish is pretty unique for a player his age. It's a good sign that Hughes has already turned a corner in AA, and at this pace, he should be up to New York at some point next season.

11. Jay Bruce, of: Reds (A-)

Earlier in the season, I did a study on teenage hitters in the Midwest League. Needless to say, the list of success stories was a short one; the expectation level for this group is (as a result) low. The type of season that Jay Bruce is having so far is unprecedented. Bruce is hitting for power at rates that even Prince Fielder did not at such an age. And he's doing so with a decent-enough strikeout rate. On the shortlist of people that wouldn't surprise me to be atop this list in a year.

12. Troy Tulowitzki, ss: Rockies (AA)

The best combination of offensive and pure shortstop ability on this list. Drew isn't a bad defender, but neither his range or arm can match Tulo up the middle. While Troy is not the same caliber hitter, he is in the ballpark. Tulowitzki offers good power for a middle infielder, and he has the patience learned from three big program collegiate years. Tulowitzki's problem is a strikeout rate that is too high, his one drawback from being complete as a hitter.

13. Andy Marte, 3b: Indians (AAA)

Things were a struggle for Marte much into the season; he was drawing poor reviews and his numbers followed. Marte was a mess; Atlanta and Boston could not have appeared smarter. While it's too early to say Marte has turned a corner, he's done enough to salvage his status as a first tier prospect. We continue to hope that Marte will eventually mold into a superstar, turn his promising young seasons into a star-studded future. Such a breakout may never happen, but color me surprised if Marte doesn't still build a solid career.

14. Carlos Quentin, of: Diamondbacks (AAA)

At this point, the fact that Quentin has not been given an extended trial in the big leagues is discouraging. In the winter, we asked what would by so wrong about Andy Marte to make two (good) organizations trade him. Now, Quentin is bringing up similar questions. Why are the D-Backs so reluctant to give Quentin the keys? At this point, the outfielder has shown patience (while continuing his high HBP totals), a very good contact rate and gap power. Quentin has polish all over his bat, and soon, teams will have to truly investigate what Arizona's asking price is on their #3 prospect.

15. Elijah Dukes, of: Devil Rays (AAA)

It's both a good and a bad sign when the only flaw in a prospect's resume is make-up. We can now say definitively that the Devil Rays did not assign enough value towards make up, but how important is it? The future of Dukes will go a long way in answering this question, he's truly a player whose progress will only be hindered by himself. I won't be surprised if Dukes ends up the best player on this list; I won't be surprised if he is a complete bust. With Elijah Dukes, only the middle would be a surprise.

16. Chris Young, of: Diamondbacks (AAA)

Undervalued before the 2005 season, I thought Young started to become overvalued this winter. He hit for power well, steals bases and plays very good defense, but batting average is a substantial limiting factor. With that being said, Young has struck out in just 18.3% of his at-bats this season, a very positive number. Look for Young's .282 BABIP to improve in the second half, and with it, his batting average. While we'd like it for Young to be showing more on the bases to call him a five tool talent, giving him credit for the "Hitting for Contact" tool is a big step in the right direction.

17. Andy LaRoche, 3b: Dodgers (AAA)

Three straight Bryan Smith pre-2005 breakout selections, sweet! LaRoche answered a lot of questions this season when he turned his Southern League struggles from last season around, looking like a much more complete player. While in AA, the third baseman walked in about 15% of his plate appearances, rarely struck out, and showed some of the power he had in Vero Beach a year before. I wouldn't be surprised if LaRoche struggles a bit as a rookie in 2007, and in the same league as David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman he might not make many All-Star teams, but he's a big chip in the Dodgers reconstruction.

18. Adam Jones, of: Mariners (AAA)
19. Jeff Clement, c: Mariners (AAA)

From a fantasy perspective, Jeff Clement is the Mariners best prospect. The list of power-hitting catchers at the Major League level is a short one, and a list Clement should be adding his name to by 2008. Despite his struggles coming back from injury in AAA, Clement has given the Mariners a lot of reason for optimism about their future backstop logjam. Given how quickly Clement should rise towards the top of any fantasy catcher list, keeper leaguers should have Clement ranked higher.

From a baseball standpoint, Jones is the better prospect. On the bases and in the field, Jones is superior. He brings a unique degree of athleticism to the game - his transition to the outfield has gone seamlessly. And if Jones joins Choo and Ichiro in a Major League outfield, it's quite possible baseball will have never seen three stronger arms in the same outfield. At the plate, Jones has improved as the season has progressed, showing more patience and better contact skills.

Jones shouldn't be a superstar on the Seattle Mariners, but he'll be a good one for a long time.

20. Carlos Gonzalez, of: Diamondbacks (A+)

The Diamondbacks have five prospects ranked higher than the top prospect of 19 organizations. Now really, is there any doubting that (scouting director) Mike Rizzo deserves a GM job somewhere? Gonzalez is not the best bet for success (Quentin) or player with the highest ceiling (Upton) in the organization, but he scores well in both categories. After hitting for solid power in the Midwest League last year, his huge slugging numbers in Lancaster should not come as a surprise. Gonzalez is better than the player he was last year, and not quite the player his numbers suggest currently. But with a few more walks and less strikeouts, the latter could very well change.

21. Jose Tabata, of: Yankees (A-)

Volatility. It scares me. If Tabata flames out, I look too quick to pull the trigger. But any lower, and you look stupid when he becomes a star. For now, his standing towards the back of the first tier will have to do, but it's a long way between now and 2009. Tabata has shown a solid contact rate, good doubles power, solid patience and good baserunning in his full season debut. And he's 17. Or is it, "But he's 17"?

22. Ian Stewart, 3b: Rockies (AA)

As you can tell, with his performance this season, I have dropped Felix Pie from the first tier. Ian Stewart, I have to say, is on the verge of getting the same treatment. While the third baseman is not posting Pie-type numbers in the Texas League, he has been pedestrian. For only so long can pedestrian be good enough. Eventually, we'll have to see that Stewart is going to turn those 26 doubles into home runs, and that he might be able to hit for average. For now, the hope of 2004 lingers enough to keep him in the top 25.

23. Nick Adenhart, sp: Angels (A+)

In a lot of ways, Adenhart is similar to Phil Hughes, a good blend of stuff and serious polish. Adenhart, for three months, has pitched far older than his age and level indicates. While he hasn't posted the double-digit-type K/9 numbers that many pitching prospects ranked higher and lower than him have, Adenhart offers poise that very few in the minors have ... for his age, only Hughes is close. The minor leagues continue to offer success story after success story for the Angels, who have quite the stable of young pitchers in Jered Weaver, Jose Arredondo and Adenhart to go with their accomplished pitching veterans.

Part Two, with 24-75, coming tomorrow...

Comments

Nice list, some issues.

I've never been a huge believer in Andy Marte. Career .274 BA, .844 OPS in the minors. The batting averages have been somewhat low for a super-stud prospect like he's been billed across the board throughout his career. A solid major leaguer, I'll buy into that, but just a year ago a lot of people had him as a Top 3 prospect in the game and perennial major league All-Star, and I don't buy into that.

I actually expected a lot better than Drew.

I think waiting for Bailey to show up before giving him the top praise was smart. I'm not a big fan of giving guys top spots in the prospect rankings just for showing up (as has been for years with Loewen, Adam Miller, Volquez, etc. though Mark Rogers is my exception to this rule).

Nice list Bryan. Just like with your pre-season list I think you've done a fantastic job. Most analysts just ignore guys like Elijah Dukes despite the fact that he's clearly one of the top talents in baseball.

I had only one major gripe with your pre-season top 75 which I brought up to you a couple times (here and on soxprospects.com). I thought Howie Kendrick was rated too low. Not that you need my approval in the least, but I think you ranked him perfectly this time around.

Okay, I have to share one criticism, it wouldnt be right otherwise. I think Mike Pelfrey deserves the number 3 ranking for pitching prospects. His fastball has such amazing movement and placement that it will at the very least make him a solid starter somewhere in-between Wang and Webb. Weve all heard that his secondary pitches need work, and thats fair, but if he scraps the curveball for a decent slider hes got a chance to be the best pitcher on this list. Personally, I like both secondary pitches more than most because I think his arm action is underrated.

Aaron, he made this list originally, but I took him off when he was called up. For what it's worth, I had him as #20, the third-best starting pitcher. If he doesn't wear out his prospect eligibility, than he'll be back on in the winter, probably around the same area.

Thanks for the comments.

Nice quality list, although I too was a bit surprised to see Pelfrey excluded from the upper tier .... Maybe I am just caught up in an overhyped New York prospect ... I will be patiently waiting for your explanation.

Thanks for the explanation ... somehow I missed it ..

What has Maybin done this season to rank ahead of Jay Bruce this season? Maybin strikes out more and his BABIP on the season is possibly the highest I have ever seen. Is his cieling just that much higher that it propels him ahead of Jay?

I expected to see Hughes in the top third of the list, but Jose Tabata? That's a surprise.

As far as Pelfry goes, I watched his first start on Saturday. He has a GREAT fastball that moves. If he's even capable of throwing mediocre breaking pitches for strikes, he'll do well.

Great list so far. It will be interesting to see where Humberto Sanchez and Nolan Reimold rank. Sanchez has seemed to develop a couple other pitches and may be a decent tier 2 starting pitching prospect. Reimold had a very impressive April and May, then got injured and has slumped since coming back (9 for 64). His BABIP were pretty high during the first 2 months and was expected to have a little drop off, but not to the degree of his current slump. Great power, decent speed, RF arm.

Doug,

A couple reasons why Maybin is higher. And let me preface this by saying that if the second half continues how the first half has, I wouldn't be surprised to see them flip-flopped this winter.

What that comment should tell you is that a lot of this list is weighing what happened before 2006. With players that have a minor league history this is easy, but with '05 draftees, reputation is important. Maybin was the consensus better prospect 13 months ago. Changing them now seems a bit premature.

At the plate, Bruce has the edge right now. But I'm not sure Jay is going to be able to stay in center, while Maybin could win Gold Gloves there.

Those two facts were the big reason I went with Maybin before Bruce.

Bryan,
Thanks for the response. I agree and think its pretty unlikely that Jay will be in CF for the Reds. I know how much potential Maybin has. Coming into the 05 draft, he was my #2 prospect right behind Upton. Cant wait to see the rest of the list tomorrow.

Bryan,
Good list so far. Nice to see my man Elijah up there. Hows about doing me a solid and putting Jerry Owens and Shane Robinson in the top 30 so I can unload them in my keeper league.
Thanks.

j/k sort of.

Very good rankings. I just have a couple of questions.

1. Where do you think Milledge and Billingsley would fit in here? I figure Milledge would be somewhere around 6 or 7 (above Maybin). Billingsley is more of a question - above or below both Hughes and Bailey?

2. Marte vs. LaRoche. Marte only dropped four spots and LaRoche gained just six? Marte has not been impressive for a guy repeating a level. His power has been pretty much identical to 2005, but his average has not improved much, his slugging is down, and his K rate is way up while his walk rate is down. Then there is LaRoche, whose issue, in your 2006 preseason rankings, was contact rate, which has been close to excellent this season, with only a 15% strikeout percentage. Showed very good patience at AA and featured good power that should develop. His AAA tenure has been short, but impressive none-the-less. Is it because of the labrum injury? I'm curious, as I feel Marte has a higher ceiling, but seems he still has a ways to go before it "clicks."

My apologies, Bryan, I see you have LaRoche at 17, not 19. Not sure why I thought that, and for some reason, those two spots make a world of difference in what I was asking.

Still curious on how you project LaRoche.

I knew the Milledge and Billingsley questions were coming. I guess I must like Lastings more than most, but his big league trial definitely would have seen him jump a few spots for me. His arm, his speed, his insane bat speed were all on nightly display, he's awesome. Don't hold me to it, but I would have had trouble putting him much lower than 5.

Billingsley is tougher, you're right, but he would be the top pitcher on this list. He succeeded in an insanely hard environment, with stuff better than Hughes' and on par with Bailey's. He hasn't impressed me all that much in Los Angeles, but I see a future there. He could have ranked as highly as 7th, as low as 9th.

If you haven't noticed, I really am wary about drastically switching rankings within the first tier from my winter and midseason list. LaRoche has had an awesome season, and he's been better than Marte. Like I said with Bruce/Maybin, if things continue as they are, Andy will be higher rated in the winter. LaRoche has done so much to show improvement this season, but Marte has been a consistently good minor league player for longer. His track record remains better.

As I said, the two could very well pass this winter, I just need a little more proof from LaRoche first.

Why Adenhart over guys like Gallardo, Slowey and Garza? They seem to be doing it better at a higher level, no?

Thanks for the quick response, Bryan. Great job with the "elite" tier of rankings, looking forward to the rest.

Also curious about Gallardo below Adenhart. I feel that Hughes, Bailey, [Pelfrey, and Billingsley] are the top pitching prospects, in a tier to their own, and then guys like Adenhart, Garza, Gallardo, and a few others follow in a second tier. Not sure on Slowey, as I don't think he has Major League stuff (to me, a AAAA guy), but Gallardo, Garza, and Adenhart all strike me as guys with high ceilings and bright futures. Is it more because Adenhart was ranked ahead of them to start the season and neither has done enough to surpass him? I'd figure the other two will be ranked in your top 30 or 35.

Add me to the list of guys curious about the Adenhart ranking. There's little to complain about in his current numbers, but I saw his debut in Rancho, and it was ... well ... underwhelming. Too many walks, not enough strikeouts, and just not really looking like the dominant stud he's supposed to be. I can totally imagine him repeating the Cal League after that.

With regards to Quentin, one minor detail that is often overlooked is that because he had surgery right after being drafted, he started his pro career late and does not have to be protected on the 40-man roster yet. While he is certainly good enough to take a spot that is currently wasted on some of the 'veteran' guys (as did Uggla in hindsight), I'm guessing the D'Backs don't want to put him there until absolutely necessary; although a September callup this season looks very likely the way he has been swinging the bat lately.
Hopefully, the D'Backs would be smart enough to clear a roster spot for him. That's the downside of having too many prospects, I suppose; the team will have juggle their roster carefully to avoid getting their system raided in the rule 5.

Just as it was in the beginning of the season, Gallardo and Garza and company are one level above Nick Adenhart. However, Adenhart is a year younger than Gallardo (in baseball age), and offers better stuff and equal-to-better pitchability. Yovani has had a good year, but there's no question the Brewers would take Adenhart in a straight-up deal if offered.

Adenhart is also an astounding three years younger than Garza, and Nick offers better control and pitchability. That is unparalleled.

Rob, I believe you saw a teenager in his first Cal League appearance. He's now further from home than he has ever been, dealing with a new set of teammates. I saw a dominant Adenhart in Cedar Rapids, in person. I imagine, if you just give a teenager a bit of time to develop, you'll be seeing a dominant one in Rancho Cucamonga.

Andy LaRoche... underrated.

Hitting for average... .309 in AA, .300 in AAA. Check.
Hitting for power... 10HR in his last 175 AB's, 30HR last year. Check.
Plate discipline... unbelievable 45/38 BB/K ratio this year. Check.

He's been the complete package at the plate. Even throw in 7/10 on the basepaths if you want.

I'm stunned to see Andy Marte so high on the list. He's been overrated for over a year now by most and has done nothing this year besides a 2 week power display to prove that he's a top 20 prospect.

He can't use the age relative to league argument anymore, his plate discipline has deteriorated this year, and he has 18 errors at third base.

Andy LaRoche is a more complete player at this point and deserves to be a top 10 overall prospect due to his all-around package and production. Just a year ago every scout was touting his 40HR potential and solid defense at third when he was leading the majors at one time in HR.

Thank you for ranking Dukes, Tabata, and Butler high though... love where you slotted them in.

I loved prospect updates 1 - 24...BUT...web site said "tomorrow" for second group of mid-season prospect updates, and was dated july 11...well, it is July 13 where I am, and no second section...is it July 11 in your town, or was July 11 a typo, or have you had a surprise delay???

I wish I had it yesterday :-)

Mike Pilecki