Around the MinorsMarch 07, 2010
Year of the Rookie: The 2010 AL Edition
By Marc Hulet

Last week, we took a look at the Rookie of the Year candidates in the National League. This week, we're looking at the top MLB-ready (or almost ready) prospects in the American League. There are some impressive players on the cusp on the Major Leagues for 2010 so it should be an exciting race in the season to come.

Early 2010 Rookie Favorites

Brian Matusz, LHP, Baltimore
2009 Peak Level: Majors
2010 Roadblock: David Hernandez

One of the top 2008 draft picks, Matusz more than held his own in an eight-game trial at the Major League level in '09. He posted a 4.08 FIP in 44.2 innings. The southpaw showed solid control with a walk rate of 2.82 BB/9 and he missed some bats (7.66 K/9). On the downside, he allowed a lot of hits (52) and produced a low ground-ball rate (31.2%), which led to a HR/9 rate of 1.21. With that said, he's well positioned to take over the No. 4 starter spot - right behind Brad Bergesen and one spot ahead of sophomore Chris Tillman - in the Orioles rotation in 2010.

Scott Sizemore, 2B, Detroit
2009 Peak Level: Triple-A
2010 Roadblock: Ramon Santiago

The Tigers organization has not afforded many opportunities to rookies over the past few years but Sizemore is one of two prospects that should see regular playing time in the field. The 25-year-old second baseman will be making his MLB debut if he makes the club out of spring training as expected. Last season, he split the year between double-A and triple-A. At the senior level, he hit .308/.378/.473 in 292 at-bats. Overall, he slammed 17 homers and stole 21 bases (in 25 tries) on the year. Sizemore saw an increase in both his power and speed numbers in '09 so we must be cautious in our expectations: a .270 batting average with 10 homers and 15 steals is probably a good start.

Austin Jackson, OF, Detroit
2009 Peak Level: Triple-A
2010 Roadblock: Clete Thomas

Part of the loot for Curtis Granderson, the 23-year-old outfielder spent all of '09 in triple-A but would have reached the Majors in '09 for most clubs. Jackson hit .300/.354/.405 in 504 at-bats. His power numbers were down last year (.105 ISO) but he showed good speed on the base paths and nabbed 24 bases in 28 attempts. On the downside of Jackson's game, he doesn't walk enough for a top-of-the-order hitter (7.2%) and he strikes out too much for his modest power (24.4%). Defensively, he has good range in center field.

Wade Davis, RHP, Tampa Bay
2009 Peak Level: Majors
2010 Roadblock: Andy Sonnanstine

Davis, 24, impressed a lot of people with his first six MLB starts. In 36.1 innings of work, he allowed 33 hits and posted a walk rate of 3.22 BB/9. He also had a solid strikeout rate at 8.92 K/9 and his FIP was 2.90. There is some concern around the fact that he allowed a 25% line-drive rate and he'll likely need to use his secondary pitches a little more in '09 after favoring his heater (74.2% of the time). When he used it, his curveball was a valuable pitch. The Rays have an exciting, young rotation with James Shields, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, David Price, and Davis. Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson is also not far away.

Neftali Feliz, RHP, Texas
2009 Peak Level: Majors
2010 Roadblock: Tommy Hunter

After a lights-out debut as a reliver in '09, there has been some talk that the Rangers should just leave Feliz, 21, in the 'pen so he can dominate hitters. Luckily, the club has decided not to do that, though. Feliz' ceiling is even higher than Joba Chamberlain (who has been in a similar situation with the Yankees) but the Rangers organization desperately needs reliable starting pitching. In '09, Feliz gave up just 13 hits in 31.0 innings and showed good control for his experience level (2.32 BB/9). Along with a .129 batting-average-against, the right-hander posted a strikeout rate of 11.32 K/9 and had a tiny line-drive rate of just 4.6%.

The Sleepers

Michael Brantley, OF, Cleveland
2009 Peak Level: Majors
2010 Roadblock: Matt LaPorta/Russell Branyan

The recent signing of Russell Branyan hurts Brantley. The outfielder could now lose playing time to Matt LaPorta (a natural first baseman) who will likely get at-bats in left field in 2010, like he did in '09. Brantley will certainly not push Grady Sizemore out of center or Shin-Soo Choo out of right. As the fourth outfielder, though, Brantley could still be a valuable player and is one injury away from significant playing time. The rookie is a rare young player who truly understands his game. With zero power (.094 ISO in triple-A), Brantley's game is to get on base and use his legs (46 steals in 51 tries). He's done a nice job of actually walking more than he strikes out in his minor league career (1.23 BB/K in '09).

Michael Taylor, OF, Oakland
2009 Peak Level: Triple-A
2010 Roadblock: Rajai Davis

Taylor was busy this past winter, going from Philadelphia to Toronto to Oakland during the Roy Halladay trade (He was flipped from Oakland in a rare prospect-for-prospect trade that saw Brett Wallace land in Canada). The 24-year-old outfielder spent much of the '09 season in double-A where he hit .333/.408/.569 in 318 at-bats. He also appeared in 30 games in triple-A and he was a 20-20 player on the year. Taylor has the potential to be a very good player but he's currently blocked at the MLB level by both Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney - two inferior players. Expect Taylor to break through sooner rather than later.

The Second-Half Reinforcements

Brett Wallace, 1B/3B, Toronto
2009 Peak Level: Triple-A
2010 Roadblock: Lyle Overbay

Toronto tried unsuccessfully to trade incumbent first baseman Lyle Overbay during the off-season. However, he's in the last year of a multi-year deal so it's possible that the rebuilding Jays will be able to find a taker in the second half of the season. Wallace has the potential to be a .280-.300 hitter with 20-plus homers. He's definitely not a third baseman so first base (or DH) is his future destination.

Kyle Drabek, RHP, Toronto
2009 Peak Level: Double-A
2010 Roadblock: Various

With the trade of Roy Halladay, the Jays club has few proven arms in the starting rotation, which will benefit Drabek as he attempts to break through to the Majors. On the downside, he's low man on the totem pole with quite a few arms ahead of him, including Marc Rzepczynski, Brett Cecil, Brad Mills, David Purcey, Zach Stewart, etc. Drabek's fastball/curveball combination could help him reach the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter.

Carlos Santana, C, Cleveland
2009 Peak Level: Double-A
2010 Roadblock: Lou Marson

The talented Santana will not be held off for long by fellow rookie Lou Marson. Santana is an offensive juggernaut with the ability to hit .300 with 20+ homers. He's also a proven run producer (97 or more RBI in the past two seasons) and he gets on base at a crazy rate thanks, in part, to his walk rates of 15-16%. The only hole in his game right now is his defense, as he was converted to catcher just a few years ago.

Tyler Flowers, C, Chicago
2009 Peak Level: Majors
2010 Roadblock: A.J. Pierzynski

Another offense-first catcher, Flowers received his first taste of MLB action in '09. Veteran A.J. Pierzynski is signed through 2010, which is really the only thing keeping this prospect from blooming in the Majors this season. The slugger is similar to Carlos Santana in the fact that he gets on base a lot (18.0% in double-A) with power (.246 ISO) but he's not going to hit .300 in the Majors. The Braves organization will likely regret trading Flowers more than Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Jesus Montero, C/DH, New York
2009 Peak Level: Double-A
2010 Roadblock: Jorge Posada

As scary as it is to consider, Montero's bat may be MLB-ready right now. And that's keeping in mind that he has just 44 games above A-ball and he's just 20 years old. With that said, his defense behind the plate is definitely not ready. As such, and considering that the club is not desperately in need of offense right now, there is no harm in keeping Montero is the minors where the organization can only hope his defense improves enough to make him a future backstop in the Majors.

Chris Carter, 1B, Oakland
2009 Peak Level: Triple-A
2010 Roadblock: Daric Barton/Jack Cust

Another slugger, Carter is suffering the same fate as Michael Taylor; the first baseman has no where to play right now, although he may be MLB ready. Carter can only hope that Daric Barton (or Jack Cust) will have a slow start to the season. A .250-.270 projected hitter in the Majors, the former White Sox prospect could hit 30-40 homers with massive strikeout numbers.

Desmond Jennings, OF, Tampa Bay
2009 Peak Level: Triple-A
2010 Roadblock: Matt Joyce

Jennings is a step behind Matt Joyce, who already has his own sabermetric fan club. However, a slow start could mean disaster as Jennings is all but ready for a MLB shot. The prospect showed improved power in '09 while also hitting above .320 with 52 steals (in 57 tries). If Jennings makes it to the Majors and shares the outfield with B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford, the Rays may have one of the best defensive (and speediest) outfields in all of Major League Baseball.

Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Tampa Bay
2009 Peak Level: Triple-A
2010 Roadblock: Wade Davis

The future sure is bright in Tampa Bay. Hellickson is another Rays prospect that is blocked by other young players. Just 22, he's shown consistently-good control throughout his career and he posted a walk rate of 2.35 BB/9 in nine triple-A starts in '09. He also managed a strikeout rate of 10.99 K/9. On the year, right-handed hitters batted just .164 against Hellickson. One thing he needs to work on, though, is his ground-ball rate, which was just 39.9% combined between double-A and triple-A.

Justin Smoak, 1B, Texas
2009 Peak Level: Double-A
2010 Roadblock: Chris Davis

Smoak got off to a good start in double-A in '09 and he hit .328/.449/.481 in 183 at-bats. He also produced an outstanding walk rate of 17.2%. When he moved up to triple-A, Smoak found the pitching a little more challenging and his triple-slash line dropped to .244/.363/.360 in 197 at-bats. His BABIP went from .375 to .293. Once he shows a little more pop against southpaws (.214 average vs LHP, .326 vs RHP), the smooth-fielding Smoak should take over first base.


I could see Sizemore turning into the next Pedroia (too bad he doesn't have the Green Monster to hep him). Austin Jackson will have a rough time his rookie season (similar to Cameron Maybin).