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November 1, 2010

Future Shock

Monday Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants (AFL: Scorpions)
A change in both stance and hitting mechanics turned Belt from a relatively unknown fifth-round pick in 2009 to one of the best statistical performers in the game after a .352/.455/.620 season spread across three levels. Now trying to prove it's for real in Arizona, Belt has recovered from a slow start to lift his averages to .319/.360/.477 and put himself in competition for the first-base job next spring. With the crouch taken out of his stance to go with a more open setup that allows him to use all fields, he's worthy of the look. Aubrey Huff has been a great story, but next year it's time to think about his future at the position.

Charlie Blackmon, OF, Rockies (AFL: Scorpions)
A difficult prospect to wrap one's head around, Blackmon was known more for his ability on the mound (a position he was twice drafted at) before moving to the outfield at Georgia Tech, so when he was a second-round pick in the 2008 draft, he was known more for his tools than his baseball ability. At 24, he's a bit behind the standard spectrum for his age, but the tools are starting to blossom. His regular season was delayed due to hamstring issues, but his .297/.360/.484 line at Double-A Tulsa features unprecedented power that has moved onto Arizona, as he has added three more jacks in 35 at-bats. A 65-70 runner on the 20-80 scale, his kind of ceiling is hard to find despite his age, and he should show up in the big leagues at some point in 2011.

Justin DeFratus, RHP, Phillies (AFL: Solar Sox)
An 11th-round pick in 2007 out of a California junior college, DeFratus was moved to the bullpen in 2009, and he's become a prospect because of it. Featuring the rare combination of well above-average velocity and command, DeFratus had a 71/16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 65 innings spread across High- and Double-A to go with a 1.94 ERA, and he's now getting attention as one of the most impressive relievers in the Arizona Fall League. He finally gave up a hit on Saturday, but he also struck out the side in a scoreless inning, giving him eight Ks over four innings and putting him that much closer to the big leagues.

Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals (AFL: Scorpions)
The last thing anyone wants to do is make any assumption off four games. Still, just two weeks removed from his 18th birthday, Harper is more than holding his own in Arizona, going 6-for-17 with his first home run on Saturday off of Padres prospect (kind of) Erik Davis. But again, this isn't about the statistics as much as it is about scouts simply seeing someone whose tools stand out amongst the top prospects in the game, while his in-game abilities more than fit. In other words, he's a potential beast.

Lastings Milledge, OF, Pirates (VEN: Tigres)
Often miscast as a player with an attitude problem, Milledge doesn't have to be here, as players who got 400+ big-league plate appearances in the majors rarely play in the winter leagues. Still, after getting outplayed by Jose Tabata during the season's second half, Milledge hardly has guaranteed playing time in 2011, and it's clear that he still has some learning to do at the plate after sacrificing all of the power in his swing in an attempt to make more contact. Despite six hits, including a home run Sunday, in his first four games for Aragua, it's too early to say everything is good, but the fact that he's spending the offseason working on his game is the most important signal for now.

Jamie Moyer, LHP (DOM: Escogido)
Certainly the oldest player in Ten Pack history, when Moyer turned Harper's age of 18, Ronald Reagan was still two months away from being sworn in as our nation's 40th president. Turning 48 in November, Moyer still wants to pitch, so he's making his case for a spring training invite by pitching for the Leones. He delivered a perfect inning in his debut Friday. Go look at what your favorite team got out of their fifth starter this year and tell me at least half of baseball shouldn't at least get a closer look at Moyer look next spring.

Cord Phelps, 2B/3B, Indians (AFL: Javelinas)
With all the attention paid to Jason Kipnis in the Cleveland system this year (and with good reason), somehow the guy ahead of him at Triple-A got lost in the shuffle despite a very good year of his own. A third-round pick in 2008, Phelps had an explosion of his own during the second half of the regular season, batting .317/.386/.506 following a promotion to Triple-A. He's not nearly the prospect Kipnis is, but at the same time, he deserves just as good a look for a big-league job, especially considering how awful the Cleveland infield was this year. His lack of power doesn't profile well for third base, but that's where he's playing in Arizona, and hitting a robust .324/.468/.432 in his first nine games. Instead of figuring out which one to play, Cleveland just might be looking for a way to give both a shot.

Wilson Ramos, C, Nationals (VEN: Tigres)
Looking to gain some more experience before going into next spring with a shot to earn a big-league catching job in Washington, Ramos began getting some extra at-bats in his native land over the weekend, going 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles in his season debut for Aragua. He remains a plus defender with above-average pure hitting ability, but a lack of secondary skills will likely prevent him from being a star. At least he'll be an upgrade over Ivan Rodriguez if Pudge is willing to end his career as a backup.

Kyle Skipworth, C, Marlins (AFL: Desert Dogs)
The sixth overall pick in the 2008 draft, Skipworth's full-season debut was bad enough to earn a return engagement to Low-A Greensboro, and while he started to unlock some of the power in his swing with 17 home runs, his overall line of .249/.312/.426 still showed a talented player being held back by a horrible approach, as he struck out nearly once every three at-bats. With eight whiffs in 30 Arizona Fall League at-bats, he's still hacktastic, but with it has come three home runs and 20 total bases overall. There's still talent here, and still hope as well.

Marquez Smith, 3B, Cubs (VEN: Tigres)
Kind of the little engine that could, although at a bulky 5-10, 210, he's not all that small, Marquez continues to prove his doubters wrong. Because he was 22 when he was selected in the eighth round of the 2007 draft, Marquez as always been old for his level, but he's also always hit, including a .314/.384/.574 line at Triple-A this year while showing off very good defense at the hot corner. Scouts don't see a future star in him, but many project him as an everyday player. For now, though, he's nice insurance for another Aramis Ramirez injury.

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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