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March 22, 2011

Future Shock

Prospect Preview: AL Central

by Kevin Goldstein

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Chicago White Sox

How'd I Do In 2010: Putting the 13th overall pick in the draft as the favorite (3-1) was an aggressive move, but it worked out, as Chris Sale somehow fell into the team's lap and quickly became the first 2010 draftee to reach the big leagues. Tyler Flowers (7-1) and Jordan Danks (10-1) had the next best odds but instead fell completely out of the Top 11.

The Incumbent: Sale won't be eligible for the list next year, as he'll open the year as the set-up man for closer Matt Thornton, who has the job that Sale will slowly slide into over time. Sale will be a fantastic reliever, but much like Rangers closer Neftali Feliz, he has the ability to start, and this could be a waste of value.

Other Possibilities: Things get quite messy from here, as it's a bad system that will also lose the eligibility of third baseman Brent Morel and slugger Dayan Viciedo.. As much as I like Eduardo Escobar, he doesn't seem like a No. 1 prospect, and Jared Mitchell is suddenly a 22-year-old player with plenty of tols and nearly zero experience. The team's best hope might be a high-upside/high-risk guy like outfielder Trayce Thompson, or 2010 second-rounder Jacob Petricka blowing up, because the Adam Dunn signing leaves them without a first-round pick come June.

Trade Bait: Tyler Flowers has been outstanding this spring, but his miserable showing last year all but forced the team to commit to A.J. Pierzynski for two more years as part of a back-loaded deal that pays him $6 million in 2012. Flowers isn't good catcher in the first place, and his two other positional possibilities; first base and designated hitter, are well-manned.

Best Chance To Move Into The Top 101: Despite hitting just .229/.302/.433 in an injury-plagued full-season debut, outfielder Trayce Thompson is still loaded with tools and has the highest ceiling in the system.

The Extreme Long Shot: A seventh-round pick last June, shortstop Tyler Saladino quickly acclimated to professional baseball by hitting .309/.397/.442 in 47 Low-A games after signing. He's also a legitimate defensive shortstop, so a full season of production could rocket him up the charts.

Odds To Be No. 1 On The Next Top 11:

Eduardo Escobar: 3-1
Jared Mitchell: 3-1
Trayce Thompson: 6-1
Jacob Petricka: 12-1
The Field: 12-1

Cleveland Indians

How'd I Do In 2010: Not good, as No. 1 prospect Jason Kipnis wasn't even on the board. The potential fifth overall pick in the draft, who ended up being right-hander Drew Pomeranz, was given significantly better odds (3-1) than Lonnie Chisenhall (8-1), who currently ranks ahead of him.

The Incumbent: The Indians are very hard to project; while their top two prospects in Kipnis and Chisenhall are more developmentally lined up for 2012 debuts, the positions they play are wide open on a bad big-league team desperate for talent. That could lead to some rush jobs, leaving one with many hedged bets.

Other Possibilities: Alex White is in a similar position to the infielders, with plenty of scenarios seeing him topping 50 big-league innings this year. Pomeranz has looked very strong this spring, and the sense that he'll be in the minors all year help his odds significantly. Outfielder LeVon Washington is still loaded with tools, while power-armed righty Jason Knapp is always one healthy year away from seeing his stock soar. In a draft as good as the one we'll have in June, the eighth overall pick will surely be a factor.

Trade Bait: The Indians are in a tough spot, as they are in rebuilding mode, but they're also out of veterans who can be traded for young talent. It will take a lot of unforeseen breaks for teams to be interested in what's left of Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner come July.

Best Chance To Move Into The Top 101: On a pure tools level, no player in the system can match Washington, who has plus speed, at least gap power and a good idea at the plate. He disappointed last spring at junior college, but some think the Indians got a steal when he slipped to the second round last June.

The Extreme Long Shot: Catcher Alex Lavisky has proven he can handle big-league stuff by receiving Pirates prospect Stetson Allie in high school, and he's also highly athletic for the position with plenty of power potential.

Odds To Be No. 1 On The Next Top 11:

Drew Pomeranz: 4-1
Jason Kipnis: 4-1
Eighth overall pick in June: 5-1
Lonnie Chisenhall: 5-1
LeVon Washington: 12-1
Alex White: 15-1

Detroit Tigers

How'd I Do In 2010: The team's 2009 first-round pick, Jacob Turner, was the strong favorite at 2-1, and he did not disappoint. Lefty Casey Crosby was the only other player given realistic odds (5-2), but he had a lost season due to elbow problems. Athletic center fielder Daniel Fields was a long shot (30-1), and still is.

The Incumbent: Turner will begin the year at Double-A, and make his upper-level debut before his 20th birthday, but there is little chance he won't be a prospect at the end of the year, as he's lined up for a 2012 debut, and for now is the top prospect in the system by a wide margin.

Other Possibilities: The system drops off dramatically after Turner, with third baseman Nick Castellanos, the recipient of a $3.45 million bonus last summer, the only position prospect worth mentioning at this point. Lefty Andy Oliver is in a weird spot, as if he takes a big step forward with his secondary pitches, he's not going to be a prospect anymore. The Tigers are always willing to spend big in the draft, but don't have a first-round pick after signing Victor Martinez.

Trade Bait: More likely to be buyers than sellers, the Tigers will have to be creative with one of baseball's most shallow systems if they want to get a deal done. Don't be surprised to see a team take a flyer on shortstop Cale Iorg based on his defensive prowess alone.

Best Chance To Move Into The Top 101: A return to health could mean a return to the rankings for Crosby, but he'll turn 22 in September and has only 121 2/3 innings of pro experience under his belt. Fields will return to High-A and still be young for the level, and his tools still impress.

The Extreme Long Shot: Rarely a big player in the international markets, the Tigers dropped $1.2 million on Venezuelan outfielder Danry Vasquez, who has a very projectable hit tools and will likely play in the Gulf Coast League this year.

Odds To Be No. 1 On The Next Top 11:

Jacob Turner: 3-2
Nick Castellanos: 5-1
Andy Oliver: 20-1

Kansas City Royals

How'd I Do In 2010: I made their fourth overall pick in June a slight favorite at 3-1, but the class disappointed, and the Royals played it safe with Christian Colon. Mike Montgomery was the favorite among actual named names at 4-1, and might be at No. 1 had he stayed healthy all year. Mike Moustakas (12-1) and Eric Hosmer (20-1) were longer shots, but at least Hosmer made the list after a miserable showing in 2009.

The Incumbent: Moustakas will begin the year at Triple-A, but it's quite difficult to project the team's plans when it comes to their wealth of prospects. Moustakas is the most likely of the hitters to both reach the big leagues and lose prospect eligibility, but the Royals are going to have to make some tough decisions in terms of balancing development with their long-term plans.

Other Possibilities: Eric Hosmer has been a monster this spring, and while 2012 is when the Royals would like to have him up, they've already decided to bump him up to Triple-A to begin the year, and what happens if it's July and he's hitting .350/.440/.600? All of the power lefties in the system as unlikely to hit 50 innings, but like Hosmer there's some chance of guys like Montgomery and John Lamb being just too damn good to keep down on the farm. Now that he's not catching, outfielder Wil Myers could put up some scary numbers at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. They'll almost certainly add a high-level talent to the mix with the fifth overall pick in June.

Trade Bait: One-year stop gaps like Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera will bring back only modest returns if they're dealt at mid-season.

Best Chance To Move Into The Top 101: Nicaraguan third baseman Chelsor Cuthbert will make his highly-anticipated full-season debut at Low-A Kane County, and projects to be above average both offensively and with the glove.

The Extreme Long Shot: After signing for $800,000 as a fifth-round pick last summer, right-hander Jason Adam has been a revelation, with a projectable frame and a fastball that is already touching 97 mph.

Odds To Be No. 1 On The Next Top 11:

Wil Myers: 4-1
John Lamb: 5-1
Eric Hosmer: 6-1
Mike Montgomery: 7-1
Fifth overall pick in June: 8-1
Mike Moustakas: 10-1

Minnesota Twins

How'd I Do In 2010: No. 1 prospect Miguel Sano was put at 4-1, which isn't bad considering he'd yet to play as a pro. Aaron Hicks was the favorite at 3-1, but did not take the big step forward many expected. Kyle Gibson at 50-1 was too low, but he's still more of a very good player than a traditional No. 1 talent.

The Incumbent: Sano might end up being the beneficiary of the Twins notoriously conservative development practices. He might be ready for Low-A, despite not turning 18 until May, but Beloit and and Midwest League are hardly conducive to big numbers. On the other hand, Elizabethton in the Appalachian League very much is.

Other Possibilities: Remember all those people projecting an Aaron Hicks explosion in 2010? Most of them are still on board for one, but a Florida State League assigmnent in '11 sure isn't going to help. Joe Benson has all the tools in the world, but it's hard to see him hitting enough to eclipse what's ahead of him, while a big improvement from Gibson would just land him in the big leagues.

Trade Bait: The Twins have tons of outfield prospects, and that depth will be what they through out on the market when looking to make improvements for the stretch run.

Best Chance To Move Into The Top 101: German outfielder Max Kepler's .286/.346/.343 showing in the Gulf Coast League last year was borderline remarkable for a 17-year-old European, and he has the tools to take a big step forward.

The Extreme Long Shot: The Twins are excited about 2009 fourth-round pick Eddie Rosario, who has shown above-average speed, gap power, and solid hitting skills.

Odds To Be No. 1 On The Next Top 11:

Miguel Sano: 2-1
Aaron Hicks: 3-1
Kyle Gibson: 12-1
Max Kepler: 75-1

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

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