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June 20, 2012

The Lineup Card

10 Favorite Prospects

by Baseball Prospectus

1. Brian Omogrosso, Chicago White Sox, and Adam Liberatore, Tampa Bay Rays
I was born, bred, and went to college in Beaver County, which is located just northwest of Pittsburgh, and I still live there. If Pittsburgh is the most provincial city in the United States, then Beaver County is the most provincial county. Nobody takes more pride in their sports heroes as we do, and we'll brag about the accomplishments of Terry Francona, John Burkett, Joe Namath, Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, Ty Law, Norm Van Lier, and others all day long. Thus, it's no surprise that my two favorite prospects are a pair of relievers from Beaver County—right-hander Brian Omogrosso, who pitches for the White Sox' Triple-A Charlotte farm club, and left-hander Adam Liberatore, who works out of the bullpen for the Rays' Double-A Montgomery affiliate. Omogrosso ranked as high as 19th in the White Sox' farm system by Baseball America after the 2008 season, but injuries have caused his stock to drop, while Liberatore has never been in the Rays' top 30. Nevertheless, they are great kids with outstanding work ethics that I would not count out. And they're from Beaver County. It also doesn't hurt that they are Italian-Americans, but that's more provincial talk for another day. —John Perrotto

2. Tommy Joseph, San Francisco Giants
Tommy Joseph isn't a blue-chip prospect, and for that reason, he'll likely stand out from the other prospects selected by the Baseball Prospectus crew for inclusion in this week's Lineup Card article. Joseph failed to land on our very own Kevin Goldstein's Top 101 Prospects list. Kevin wasn't the only prospect guru to exclude Joseph from his top prospect rankings, as he also missed Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list and didn't make the cut for Keith Law's Top 100 Prospects list, either. That's not to say he's a bad prospect; he landed at fifth on the Giants Top 11 here at BP, Baseball America ranked him second in the organization in the 2012 Prospect Handbook, John Sickels of Minor League Ball ranked him third amongst Giants prospects back in January, and Jason Parks ranked him as the third-best Giants prospect in his running What Could Go Wrong in 2012 series.

I chose Joseph as the prospect that most interested me in the minors for a few reasons, the first being that he's a Giant, and as a fan of the team, that makes him stand out a bit from the pack. I also chose him because he's a unique prospect to the organization. The Giants are often lauded for their ability to develop power arms, and for good reason, given their recent track record. They haven't been able to develop that same type of firepower for the lineup. That's not to say they haven't developed quality hitters—Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey are doing just fine thank you—but they haven't developed a true masher in quite some time. One possible, if not probable, contributing factor is their choosing not to spend many picks in the first couple of rounds of the draft over the last decade on a player that projects to be a slugger. In fact, one could argue Joseph is the only player they've spent that high a pick on in the last decade with that profile.

With the days of multiple 50-home-run hitters a season a thing of the past, power is at a premium to a certain extent, and the Giants’ ability to develop Joseph could yield a cost-controlled bopper. As Kevin and Jason discussed on a recent Up and In Podcast (Episode 95), it is highly unlikely everything will come together and result in a middle-of-the-order bat, and a more likely projection is that of a low-average power hitter that slots sixth in a lineup. That shouldn't be read as a slight, as few prospects do have it all come together, and if Joseph hits his more likely projection, Giants fans should be pleased. If his bat hits that projection and he's able to remain behind the plate, all the better, as that's a package most teams would gladly sign up for. His stats aren't anything special this season, but as a 20-year-old in Double-A, they aren't especially troubling, either. I'll be closely monitoring his development and hoping for the best. —Josh Shepardson

3. Kolten Wong, St. Louis Cardinals
Wong has my support because he has three attributes that I look for in prospects. One, he makes hitting look easy. Two, his middle name is Kaha, and that reminds me of John Jaha. Three, he hails from Hawaii, so you know there’ll be some regrettable nicknames involved. Any prospect with one or two of those ingredients deserves respect, and those with all three should bathe in adoration. —R.J. Anderson

4. Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds
I’ve always looked askance at pure speed guys. I’m still waiting for Dee Gordon to turn into a pumpkin, although he’s yet to oblige me. So when I got to see Billy Hamilton in the beginning of the 2012 Cal League season, I had my scoff queued up and ready to go.

What Hamilton did that night was preposterous. Three times he hit a routine grounder to the left side of the infield, and three times he reached base safely. All three balls were fielded cleanly, and the subsequent throws were true. Made no difference; he was safe each time, and none of the plays was especially close. Hamilton didn’t steal any bases that night; in fact, he was picked off in his only attempt.

But in 65 other games, Hamilton has amassed 80 stolen bases. In case you’re not a math whiz, I’ve already done the calculations for you: That’s more than one steal per game. (It’s actually 1.23.) If he plays all 70 remaining games for the Blaze this year and maintains that pace, he’ll end the season with 166 steals. The mind boggles.

I got to sit down with Billy for a few minutes while I was working on this piece, and he was gracious and funny. The best part of our interview was when I asked him, essentially, how he got so damn fast. “I guess I’ve always been fast,” he told me. “My whole family’s fast. My sister is even faster than me. She sees all this stuff [people are writing] about me, and she has to remind me that she can still beat me.”

So yeah, keep your eye on this kid. And someone get a home-to-first time on his sister. —Ian Miller

5. Jedd Gyorko, San Diego Padres
I'm hoping Jedd Gyorko enjoys a successful big-league career for a few reasons:

  1. He's built like a fire hydrant. Some people fixate on that and forget that the guy can hit. It'd be cool to see him come up and rake like he has in the minors so folks will shut up about his body already.
  2. The Padres need offense. Right-handed hitters with line-drive power shouldn't be hurt as much by Petco Park as some other hitters. Gyorko doesn't have great power, but 15-20 homers a year isn't out of the question, even in that ballpark. If he can do that while playing second base, as the Padres have attempted to have him do in the minors this year, so much the better.
  3. Baseball needs someone whose last name is pronounced "Jerk-o." When people try to make fun of it, they will fail, because his name will be funnier than whatever "clever" thing they say. It's like impersonating William Shatner. Even if you do it well, like Kevin Pollak, what's the point? Okay, the guy's name is pronounced "Jerk-o." That's funny. What you just said? Not so much. —Geoff Young

6. Matt Dominguez, Miami Marlins
My affinity for Matt Dominguez was an unexpected development last year. While his former high school teammate, Mike Moustakas, was playing every day in Kansas City, Dominguez was struggling to hit at Triple-A—in the Pacific Coast League, no less. It seemed as if Dominguez's underwhelming season with New Orleans was the last straw, as the 2007 first-rounder appeared prominently on exactly zero post-season rankings. To me, he was far from a lost cause. Sure, he struggled to hit for average in the PCL, but he was also just 21 years old. Combine his youth with excellent defense and a bit of pop, and I still saw Dominguez as a future major leaguer. His path to the big leagues was effectively blocked when the Marlins signed free agent Jose Reyes, and he hasn't shown much improvement this year, but I still have a feeling Dominguez will have a respectable major-league career. —Bradley Ankrom

7. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
There aren’t many guys who stick in Low-A at age 18. Xander Bogaerts didn’t do just that; he did it and slugged over .500. Bogaerts is that rare marriage of tools and stats which, when combined with a very young age, adding some spice and stirring vigorously, gives you something to dream on. The experts will tell you Bogaerts has elite bat speed, athleticism to spare, and a work ethic that career baseball coaches watch video of in seedy movie theaters. They’ll tell you he may not stick at shortstop, but his bat will play anywhere on the field. That music is sweeter to a fan’s ears than unplugging the ballpark’s PA system and preventing the latest Top 40 garbage from reducing everyone’s IQ by 20 points.

I should be upfront and say I haven’t seen him play, so I can only parrot the experts’ words back to you (which I’m doing right now). What I do know is one of the most exciting things in sport is to follow a kid as he grows from a teenager with skills but little idea of what to do with them (not exactly Bogaerts, but go with me here) into a major-league All-Star. Bogaerts isn’t a finished product by any means, but because the kid is only 19 this year (and he has an 851 OPS in High-A), there’s lots of time for dreaming. —Matthew Kory

8. Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
When the Yankees dealt Jesus Montero over the winter, I was devastated. He was the first legit power prospect the Yankees had developed in my lifetime, and I had become hugely attached. Though I'm still smarting from the trade, the pain has been eased a bit by the fact that the Yankees have another catcher with a potent bat in Low-A: Gary Sanchez.

Sanchez has several similarities to his predecessor, including a glove that lags far behind his bat. He has incredible raw power, and he has spent the last two months terrorizing Sally League pitchers; his line currently stands at .313/.361/.545, and he has won two Player of the Week awards. As Kevin Goldstein noted on Monday, Sanchez is ready to jump to High-A, and his defense has taken a step forward this season—he's now "simply bad" rather than "really bad." Keeping Sanchez in Charleston to work on his defense at the expense of facing better pitching could retard his growth as a prospect, so the Yankees will have to question how important his defense is. He has maturity issues, but those can be overcome, and older players in higher leagues are probably more than happy to put him in his place when he's out of line. 

When I'm looking at box scores, the first person I check on is Sanchez, as Twitter happily obliges by giving a nightly update on how many bases Billy Hamilton has stolen. Sanchez is the Yankees' best prospect, and he's giving me the same kind of excitement Montero gave me as a Yanks farmhand. —Stephani Bee

9. Bubba Starling, Kansas City Royals
It has been over a year since the Royals drafted Bubba Starling, said to have the most exciting set of raw tools of any player selected in the 2011 draft. As has been written many times, Starling is younger than Bryce Harper, yet if you pull up his page on Baseball Reference, it still has nothing but his logistical info. He was finally assigned to Class-A Burlington after toiling in extended spring training at the Royals' facility in Surprise, Ariz. We need some real stats. Alas, he pulled a hamstring in an exhibition game against a college team, putting his scheduled debut for Burlington next Tuesday in jeopardy. It's one thing to build up some mystique, but for crying out loud, it's about time we start to learn if Starling is a ballplayer and not just an athlete. —Bradford Doolittle

10. Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
Three days ago, I selected Chris Archer as the prospect I was most interested in. Today, I get to see immediate returns on my interest, as Archer will be activated to replace the injured Jeremy Hellickson in the rotation with the unenviable task of opposing Stephen Strasburg in his major-league debut.

Two pieces this season have particularly piqued my interest in Archer—one by Jonathan Raymond of milb.com, and one by our own Adam Sobsey. Raymond's piece exposed how cerebral Archer is about his game:

"I worked on my mental game a lot more," the 23-year-old right-hander said. "As opposed to thinking about who the hitter is, what the count is, what the score is, mechanical things, usually my one thought is, 'Whatever the pitch is, execute it, go.'

"If the catcher calls fastball in, I say, 'OK, execute that here.' If it's a slider outside the zone, I say, 'All right, throw that,' instead of having three or four different thoughts."

Without too many distractions, Archer feels he'll be able to regularly pitch at the highest level. He made two appearances with the Rays in Spring Training and tossed three scoreless innings.

"For the most part, I just want to stay consistent, take it one pitch at a time," he said. "I tend to overanalyze things, and [Allen] has just made it simple. I've just been building off that."

Sometimes, we think that kids that have a power arsenal like Archer are just throwers that rely on stuff and not the craft of pitching, but Archer is keenly aware of the mental side of the game, if not too aware of it. Sobsey's piece went at the issue from a different angle:

He shows flashes of that ceiling with a fastball that touches 97 mph and a slider that was rated best in the Rays' farm system byBaseball America. He is also a very intelligent guy whose bio mentions that he is "an avid reader" and "would be pursuing a career in psychology if not playing ball."

In his current line of work, Archer, who has an athletic, 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame, tends to be erratic. Not only is his control inconsistent, but he tends to follow excellent starts with rough ones, mostly due to a high walk rate (5.2 per nine in 591 2/3 career minor-league innings through 2011). In a recent outing for Triple-A Durham, he limited the bases on balls to two in six innings and struck out six batters, but he was also hit hard: two doubles, a triple, and a long homer, plus some pretty loud outs. Archer's fastball generally sat at 92-93 until his final inning of work. With a reliever warming in the bullpen—whom Archer no doubt saw—he aired it out, dialing his fastball up to 96-97 several times and finishing his night with his only 1-2-3 inning. A scout who watched the performance called Archer "a head-scratcher." He said that Archer is "athletic, and he's got too good an arm to disregard. In the future, he likely goes to the bullpen. That would help him simplify what he does. I see too many good swings against his fastball, and his curve and slider morph together sometimes. I also—and this is more of a gut feeling—have concerns about his toughness."

From both pieces, we see a thinker who is struggling with consistency as he comes to a career crossroad. Eventually, the Rays will have to decide whether Archer can be consistent enough to stay in the rotation or whether to let him take his fastball and slider to the bullpen and transition into becoming a power reliever. It is easy to understand their reluctance to do that given the potential of Archer's arm, but he has shown signs of turning a corner this season. He has struck out seven or more in six of his 14 starts this season and has cut down on his walk rate since a bad start to the season. He walked 32 batters while striking out 49 in his first nine starts this season, but he has flipped that script to strike out 41 batters and walk just 13 over his last five starts.

In another organization, Archer would likely be up to stay in the major leagues for the rest of the season, but with the Rays, these two starts could be his last appearances until September. Alex Cobb filled this role last year for the Rays and has replaced the injured Jeff Niemann admirably this season. Archer is the only resource the Rays can call up for a late season impact this season; the cupboard is rather bare in Durham this year, so Archer's two- or potentially three-start stint here will be an audition of things that may or may not come later. —Jason Collette

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