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July 1, 2010

Future Shock

Top 11 Prospects Still in the Minors

by Kevin Goldstein

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With the flurry of June promotions to the big leagues, I went back and reviewed my Top 101 Prospects list coming into the year. As it turns out, it's been completely obliterated, with five of the top six and seven of the top 10 players now in the big leagues. That got me wondering, who are the top 11 prospects still left in the minors? The answer wasn't an easy one, as we've lost so much elite talent to the big leagues. This does not have the same level of behind-the-scenes work as a standard team Top 11 or pre-season Top 101, but these rankings are based on discussions with various scouts and front office officials.

1. Domonic Brown, OF, Philles
Why He's Here: Now that the power is playing, there is nothing he can't do. A .318/.391/.602 line at Double-A Reading had it all, with 15 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 65 games to go with a solid walk rate and no platoon issues. You can't find a player at the upper levels with a better combination of athleticism, performance, and room to get better.
Nitpicking: Brown's speed is just a tick above average, and he'll likely end up more of an athletic slugger than a true power/speed threat.
Future: With Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth, there's just no room for Brown in the big leagues right now. Yes, Ibanez is horrible, but the Phillies aren't going to bench that contract. Brown will likely be up in September, and likely replacing Werth in right field next year when the incumbent departs via free agency.

2. Mike Trout, OF, Angels
Why He's Here:
It's not just the ridiculous .367/.449/.543 line at Low-A Cedar Rapids, as it's hard to find a scout who isn't downright giddy after watching him. He can hit, he's a plus-plus runner, he's going to hit for way more power down the road, his approach is good, and he's a fine center fielder. What more do you want? How about a max-effort player who runs out every ground ball and does it with a smile on his face? One scout gave him the highest compliment one can get from a talent evaluator: "I'd pay to watch him play."
Nitpicking:
One has to wonder how long Trout will remain a 70 runner (on the 20-to-80 scouting scale), because at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, he's physically the most atypical burner around. He's not going to get slow, but it's hard to see him being a plus-plus runner when he's 25.
Future:
Trout should be in High-A right now, and he could be in Double-A next year before his 20th birthday. He has a chance to be ahead of the big-league opening created when Torii Hunter's contract expires after the 2011 season.

3. Julio Teheran, RHP, Braves
Why He's Here:
He's 19 years old and has utterly dominated both A-ball stops with 97 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 83 2/3 innings to go with a 2.04 ERA. To find a teenager with that kind of command is rare enough, but Teheran adds three above-average pitches to the mix with a dominating 92-97 mph fastball, as well as a curve and changeup that both rate as plus.
Nitpicking:
Teheran doesn't have the prettiest or smoothest delivery in the world, but it's repeatable and works for him, so there's no reason to mess with it.
Future:
Teheran could be in Double-A by the end of the season, and that would put him on a timetable with a shot at a 2011 big-league debut, well before his 21stbirthday.

4. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Rays
Why He's Here:
There's not a pitcher in the minors with more finesse and pitchability than Hellickson, but he has very good stuff as well, with a fastball than sits at 91-93 mph and touches 95, a good curve, and one of the better changeups you'll find among prospects. With a 2.16 ERA in 16 starts for Triple-A Durham and almost more strikeouts (97) than combined hits and walks allowed (102) in 94 2/3 innings, he has nothing to prove.
Nitpicking:
Hellickson has some detractors amongst those who rate him purely on his size and stuff, but his ability to pitch doesn't just make his offerings play up, it plays them way up.
Future:
I've said it before, but in almost any other organization in baseball, Hellickson would already be in the big leagues. A run of mediocre (or worse) outings by Wade Davis could lead to a call.

5. Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays
Why He's Here:
After a slow start, Jennings has returned to form as the most electrifying leadoff prospect in the game, batting .353/.407/.549 in June. He gets on base, knows how to use his wheels in the field and on the basepaths, and he has enough power to be dangerous.
Nitpicking:
The Carl Crawford comparisons might be a bit much, as while Jennings has 16 doubles and four triples in 196 at-bats, he didn't hit his first home run of the year until Tuesday night.
Future:
The assumption coming into the year was that Crawford's impending free agency would create room for Jennings in 2011. However, with B.J. Upton's struggles on the field and with his teammates, things might end up a little differently.

6. Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals
Why He's Here:
Well, unless you've been living under a rock, you're aware that Moustakas is hitting .336/.404/.668 in the Texas League, and that's only because he's in a bit of a slump. He might have the best pure bat speed in the minors, and when more than half of your hits (39 of 76) go for extra bases and you are hitting for average, you are officially an offensive monster. He's improved at third base, and his arm has always been a cannon, earning a few rare perfect 80 scores from scouts.
Nitpicking:
Moustakas has a massive home/road split, and Northwest Arkansas is an offensive park, but it's not enough to wish away this kind of breakout. He'll never be a great, or maybe even a good third baseman, but he can stick there.
Future:
Well, Alex Gordon certainly isn't in the way anymore, not after his big-league struggles and move to the outfield. As a result, the path is clear for a 2011 debut if Moustakas doesn't get a quick September look as a reward for a job well done.

7. Martin Perez, LHP, Rangers
Why He's Here:
While the 19-year-old has had his share of ups and downs at Double-A, keep in mind his age, because the scouting reports remain stellar. If anything, he's figuring out how to harness stuff that has actually taken a step forward, as his fastball has been up to 97 mph of late, while his curveball and changeup remain highly advanced for his age. He's fired 12 shutout innings with 15 whiffs in his last two outings, and could be poised for a big second half.
Nitpicking:
Perez has been losing the strike zone at times, with 34 walks in 59 innings. He'll always be a bit undersized, but with his stuff and arm action, it's a minimal concern at best.
Future:
Perez's timetable may have moved back a bit, but he remains well ahead of the curve. A 2011 big-league debut isn't out of the question.

8. Jesus Montero, C/DH, Yankees
Why He's Here:
Montero has just started to hit this year, batting .287/.330/.511 in June, but for a 20-year-old in Triple-A, he remains one of the more impressive offensive prospects in the game, with barrel control and raw power well beyond his years. Few scouts I've talked to have lowered their scouting scores in any way.
Nitpicking:
Montero continues to improve behind the plate, but it's unlikely he'll be good enough to play there every day in the big leagues, as he leads the International League in passed balls and has thrown out just 22 percent of opposing basestealers while constantly getting run on.
Future:
If he can't fit at catcher, it's unsure what Montero's future is with the Yankees, considering first baseman Mark Teixeira's long-term deal. Is he the best trade chip in baseball, or is he untouchable?

9. Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Reds
Why He's Here:
While his ERA is a mediocre 4.35, Triple-A was a tough assignment for the Cuban émigré, and he's been brilliant at times, with an upper-90s fastball and power slider with two-plane break. He's been moved to relief this week in order to help the big-league team in the second half, and from the bullpen his two-pitch power combo could dominate.
Nitpicking:
Chapman's effort-filled delivery means that command and control could always be an issue, and his changeup needs work. On the season, he's thrown only 61 percent of his pitches for strikes.
Future:
The bullpen role is a temporary one with the Reds in playoff contention, and while he will likely be up at some time around the All-Star break, his long-term future remains as a rotation piece.

10. Tyler Matzek, LHP, Rockies
Why He's Here:
The best high school arm in the 2009 draft was held back in extended spring training, but he's been outstanding in seven starts for Low-A Asheville, limiting the Sally League to a .183 batting average while striking out 39 over 35 innings. With a 92-94 mph fastball that touches 96, he has plus-plus velocity for a lefty, and his curveball flashes true plus at times. He's big, athletic, projectable, and scouts love his mound presence.
Nitpicking:
Matzek can lose the touch and feel on his secondary offerings, leading to control issues. He tends to work up in the zone, which could be an issue down the road.
Future:
Matzek is a potentially special talent, but he's not on the fast track. He'll likely pitch at High-A in 2011.

11. You Tell Me
In the tradition of our own Tommy Bennett, this is the Question of the Day. I went through about 10 names here, and juggled this slot multiple times without really coming up with an answer. Here are my candidates, and why I did (or didn't) like them, but feel free to come up with your own here in the comments or in this afternoon's chat.

  • Dustin Ackley, 2B, Mariners: He’s recovered from a slow start, but what is he? He's a .300 hitter with walks but no power and no position, as second base is not working out well at all.
  • J.P. Arencibia, C, Blue Jays: Producing absolutely massive numbers, including a .400/.448/.842 line in June, but he's playing in a high-octane league and doesn't have a long track record.
  • Chris Carter, 1B, Athletics: Boasts the best real (not projected) power in the minors, but he's been victimized by lots of strikeouts this year as advanced Triple-A pitchers have exposed him at times.
  • Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals: His .351/.425/.528 line could use some more power, and just more of it to get past last year's debacle.
  • Brett Jackson, OF, Cubs: He's performing very well of late, but has a lot of swing and miss in his game, while his tools are good but not mind-blowing.
  • John Lamb, LHP, Royals: Turns 20 on July 10 and is probably ready for Double-A. He's a highly athletic and projectable lefty with a fastball up to 95 mph, plus curve, and solid changeup. One scout said, "If you had any balls, you'd put him on the list."
  • Mike Montgomery, LHP, Royals: Recent elbow problems are the only reason he's not in the Top 10.
  • Logan Morrison, 1B, Marlins: He's going to hit, he's going to walk, but is he going to mash? He might be more like John Olerud in the end than a true monster.
  • Will Myers, C, Royals: Overshadowed by Trout, he's the best hitter in the Midwest League after the Angels star, but his struggles behind the plate leave many wondering about his defensive future.
  • Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins: No joke, as reports out of the Dominican Summer League have been nothing short of stellar.

   

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Triple-A,  Big League Debut,  The Call-up

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