AL Prospect Values: Climbing the Depth Chart
The 2010 minor league baseball regular season has come to an end. As with every season, we've seen a lot of prospect values both increase and decrease over the long season. Pre-2010 Top 10 prospect lists are sadly out of date and prospect mavens are madly starting to update their rankings for the off-season, which will see a fresh batch of indispensable lists from the likes of Baseball American, Kevin Goldstein, Keith Law, John Sickels, and FanGraphs.
It's still a little too early to talk Top 10 lists, but let's peruse the American League organizations for some prospects that have significantly increased their values over the course of the 2010 season.
Michael Kirkman, LHP, AAA/MLB
Ranked by Baseball America as Texas' 16th best prospect entering 2010, Kirkman took a huge step forward with his four-pitch repertoire and 90-94 mp fastball. The lefty still needs to work on his control (4.67 BB/9 in triple-A) but he posted a solid 3.64 FIP in triple-A and allowed just 114 hits in 131.0 innings. He could also stand to induce a few more ground balls - especially if he's going to be pitching in Texas. Kirkman doesn't have a huge ceiling but he could be a solid No. 3 or 4 starter.
Steve Parker, 3B, A+
Parker, the A's '09 fifth round pick, had a breakout 2010 season while playing in high-A ball. The third baseman scored more than 100 runs while just missing the milestone for RBIs. Overall, he hit .296/.392/.508 in 139 games. He also showed good power with an ISO rate of .212 while keeping the strikeouts to a respectable level for someone with his power potential: 20.0 K%. The power is good sign (although he played in a pretty potent league) because he's likely going to have to move off of third base (33 errors, and his foot work isn't good) to first base.
Johermyn Chavez, RF, A+
Nick Franklin had a pretty nice season for Seattle in low-A but he's gotten a fair bit of press so let's talk about Chavez. Acquired in the "oops" trade of Brandon Morrow with Toronto, the minor league outfielder is trying to take some of the sting out of that swap. Chavez' numbers are somewhat inflated by his environment (one of the best hitting leagues in baseball) but he still slugged 32 homers (.262 ISO) after knocking out 21 in '09 in perhaps the toughest league in the minors to hit a homer. Overall in 2010, he produced a triple-slash line of .315/.387/.577 in 136 games. Chavez doesn't have great range in the outfield but he has a strong arm and profiles well in right field. Double-A will be a big test for him in 2011 and he'll be just 22 years old. He needs to trim his Ks and also learn to be a better base runner.
Jean Segura, 2B, A
Alexia Amarista was a fast mover in the system in 2010 but I prefer fellow second baseman Segura. Amarista is limited due to his lack of size, limited power, and aggressive nature at the plate, which causes him to look more like a future utility player. Segura, on the other hand, is a better all around player with good speed (50 steals in '10), more power potential (.151 ISO) and better patience (7.7 BB% in '10). Overall, he hit .313/.365/.464 in 130 low-A games. The 20 year old does need to work on being more consistent in the field, although he has some arm strength that helps him make up for some of his mistakes.
Salvador Perez, C, A+
Kansas City has the best minor league system in baseball without a doubt. One of the club's best prospects in '09 draft pick and catcher Wil Myers. Myers, though, is likely to move out from behind the plate before too long... but that doesn't leave a huge hole at the position thanks to the presence of Perez. Prior to '10, the 20-year-old catcher was basically considered a glove man with below-average bat. He's still an above-average defensive prospect (44% caught stealing, excellent game calling) but Perez also produced solid offensive numbers for his age and experience level. At high-A, he produced a triple-slash line of .290/.322/.411 in 99 games. He doesn't walk much (4.5 BB%) but Perez makes good, consistent contact and struck out at a rate of just 10.4%. At 6'3'' and 175 lbs, he has room to add muscle onto his frame.
Liam Hendriks, RHP, A/A+
Hendriks doesn't have a fastball that he can blow by hitters but the Australian hurler is in the right organization. The Twins club is known for getting the most out of prospects who have a good feel for pitching and solid command/control. Hendriks posted a 0.96 BB/9 rate in 74.2 high-A innings in 2010, while also producing a FIP of 2.14. He also does an outstanding job of keeping the ball on the ground (52 GB%). Look for him to develop into a third or fourth starter, especially if he improves his secondary pitches. He could move up to double-A in 2011 as a 22 year old.
Wade Gaynor, 3B, A
It wasn't a great season for the Tigers' minor league system but Gaynor is deserving of some attention. The '09 third round pick had a horrendous debut season but rebounded significantly in '10 in low-A. The third baseman as the potential to be an average defender, although he made 25 errors this season. Offensively, he hit .286/.354/.436 in 514 at-bats. Gaynor hit just 10 homers in '10 but he was playing in the Midwest League (a tough homer league) and he slugged 39 doubles. The right-handed hitter will look to tap into his raw power even more in 2011 at high-A ball. He's also a solid runner on the base paths, which is surprising considering his 6'3'', 225 lbs frame.
Brent Morel, 3B, AA/AAA
A number of the White Sox's top prospects lost value in 2010. Morel, a third baseman, had a solid 2010 season split between double-A and triple-A. Overall, he hit .322/.359/.480 in 490 at-bats. With 37 doubles, he has some gap power but Morel's over-the-fence power is definitely below-average for the hot corner. The 23-year-old prospect made just three errors in 63 games at third in triple-A but he also played some shortstop and could develop into a utility player at the MLB level. He has a strong enough arm to play anywhere in the field. Left-handed pitcher Charlie Leesman is another player to keep an eye on in 2011. He's still raw for a former college draftee (control, secondary pitches) but he has solid velo on his heater for a lefty and induces a lot of ground balls
Joe Gardner, RHP, A/A+
The Indians organization had a number of breakout prospects in 2010, including Jason Kipnis and Gardner. The right-handed throwing Gardner had a lot of success in six low-A starts before continuing to roll in 22 high-A games. His FIP sat at 3.62 and he had a respectable strikeout rate at 7.65 K/9. The key to Gardner's success, though, is his sinking fastball, which induced a staggering ground-ball rate of 67%. He reminds me a bit of current Indian Justin Masterson and could develop into a solid No. 3 starter if his secondary pitches continue to develop.
Gary Sanchez, C, R/A-
Just 17, Sanchez made huge strides in 2010 with the bat after signing a $3 million deal with the Yankees in 2009 as an international free agent. The catcher hit .353/.419/.597 in 119 rookie ball at-bats before moving up to short-season ball for a 17-game stint where he posted a .339 wOBA. Like fellow Yankee catching prospect Jesus Montero, Sanchez has outstanding raw power. Unlike Montero, though, the younger prospect should remain behind the plate and has a very strong arm. He just needs to work on his game calling and receiving skills. Pitcher Dellin Betances had a bounce-back year after struggling with injuries in 2009. With that said, he made just 17 starts in 2010 and needs to be more durable to make good on his massive potential.
Jake McGee, LHP, AA/AAA
Pitching is without a doubt the strength of the Rays organization and the return of McGee just helps add to the incredible depth. The lefty suffered a torn elbow ligament that required surgery in 2008 and he came back in '09 but did not return to form until 2010. McGee, 24, made 19 starts in double-A while posting a 2.53 FIP and strikeout rate of 10.19 K/9. Moved up to triple-A, the 23-year-old pitcher moved to the 'pen and tossed up a strikeout rate of 14.02 K/9 with just nine hits and three walks in 17.1 innings. Even prior to his injury, scouts thought McGee's best position would likely be closer and it looks like that may still hold true.
Ryan Lavarnway, C, A+/AA
Lavarnway entered 2010 as the fourth or fifth player on Boston's organizational depth chart at catcher but moved to the forefront after second straight 20+ homer season. A former eighth round draft pick out of Yale University, Lavarnway could battle double-A teammate Luis Exposito for the future starting role in Boston - unless you buy into Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Combined between high-A and double-A, the catcher hit .288/.393/.489 in 462 at-bats. He strikes out a bit (26.6 K% in double-A) but it's a good trade off for his power output and Lavarnway also takes a good number of walks (13.7 BB%). Defensively, he's working on his receiving but he threw out 33% of base stealers.
A.J. Jimenez, C, A/A+
Toronto has arguably the best catching depth in the Majors when you look at J.P.Arencibia, Brian Jeroloman, Travis d'Arnaud, Carlos Perez, Santiago Nessy, and Jimenez. The Puerto Rican was a steal in the '08 draft after he slid to the ninth round due to concerns about an injured elbow (that some thought would require TJ surgery but did not - although his elbow did act up late in '10). On the season in low-A, Jimenez hit .305/.347/.435 in 262 at-bats and he also received a two-game audition in high-A ball at the end of the season. He strikes out a bit too much (21.4 K%)for his modest power (.130 ISO) but Jimenez has shown better pitch recognition and patience and he's also a good athlete and solid base runner (16 steals) for a catcher. Defensively, he has a strong arm and projects to be an above-average defender. (51% caught stealing in '10).
Zach Britton, LHP, AA/AAA
Britton entered 2010 as one of Baltimore's Top 3 pitching prospects but he ended the season as a Top 50 overall MLB prospect. The 22-year-old lefty posted a 3.30 FIP in 15 double-A games before moving up to triple-A where his FIP sat at 3.18. His strikeout rate on the year was OK but not eye-popping while in the 7.35 K/9 range but his heater has great sink and he induced ground balls at a rate of 64%. While in triple-A, Britton handled right-handed batters better than fellow lefties (.238 vs .259 average). Look for him to develop into a No. 2 starter - and he could secure a spot in the O's rotation for 2011.