You’ve stumbled into the midst of series on minor league All-Stars. These aren’t the ones you’ll find on the various and sundry All-Star teams that will soon be squaring off against one another around the minors. Rather, these are the prospects who should be regarded as the luminaries of the minor leagues, at least according to this particular pontificator.
I’ve also cobbled together my Low-A All-Star Team and High-A All-Star Team. If you’d like further ruminations on my methodology for making these selections, they’re to be found in the first installment.
Otherwise, here’s my Double-A All-Star ballot, the best of the Eastern, Southern and Texas Leagues…
- C – Justin Huber, Mets (Eastern League), Age: 21
The Mets signed Huber in 2000 out of Australia. He came into the season with a highly respectable career line of .282/.382/.464, but in 2004 he’s raised his stock to become the best catcher at his level. In 212 plate appearances at Double-A Binghamton, Huber is hitting .292/.437/.482. Besides drawing 34 walks against 39 strikeouts, he’s also posting an ISO of .190. He is playing in a modest hitter’s park, but Huber’s young for the league, and he also began the season in extended spring training because of a strained chest muscle. His throwing arm doesn’t earn many raves, but the organization thinks he’s making good progress with his footwork behind the plate. The raw power is promising, and the spike in his already strong walk rate is very encouraging.
Runner-Up: Jeff Mathis, Angels (Texas League), Age: 21
- 1B – Prince Fielder, Brewers (Texas League), Age: 20
First, let me explain why Casey Kotchman isn’t my choice. While I’d rank Kotchman as the best first-base prospect in the game at this juncture, he’s played only 28 games at the Double-A level this season. In my mind, that’s not enough to give him the nod. Now, on to Fielder….Fielder, son of Cecil in blood and girth, hasn’t, on the surface, had a deeply impressive season in 2004: .257/.339/.451. But consider that, at 20 years of age, he’s comfortably younger than the vast majority of the Southern League, and also know that the Brewers skipped him over the High-A level entirely. The defending Midwest League MVP shows tremendous raw power and good bat speed and plate coverage, and he hits to all fields. He’s certainly not a deft glove-man, but the Brewers praise his efforts to improve in that regard. All things considered, a .194 ISO from a 20-year-old in the high minors is quite impressive.
Runner-Up: Jason Stokes, Marlins (Southern League), Age: 22
- 2B – Ruben Gotay, Royals (Texas League), Age: 21
Gotay generally doesn’t get much bandwidth, but he’s been a fairly underrated prospect for some time. The Royals signed him in 2001 as a 31st-round draft-and-follow out of an Iowa junior college. He’s shown good plate discipline (70 walks in the Midwest League in 2002) and solid gap-power skills for a middle infielder. He had a down season last year, but it came in the generally pitcher-friendly Carolina League and Gotay did manage to finish fifth in the loop in doubles. He doesn’t have great footwork around the bag at second, and his arm isn’t strong enough to play the left side of the infield. However, he does have a quick release, which helps him on the double play. This season at Wichita, he’s hitting .293/.375/.473 despite being younger than his peer group. Particularly encouraging the power spike he’s shown thus far.
Runner-Up: Brooks Conrad, Astros (Texas League), Age: 24
- 3B – David Wright, Mets (Eastern League), Age: 21
Unless the Mets call Wright up sooner than expected and exhaust his prospect status, you’re probably looking at the player who’ll be in the firmament of our Top Prospect List next year. Wright, in previous seasons, was a highly promising young player; this year, he’s been otherworldly. At this writing, he’s committing hate crimes against International League pitchers, but for most of the season he’s been at Binghamton. There, he’s posted an EqA of .358, which is second only to Calvin Pickering and Ian Kinsler among full-season, qualifying minor leaguers. His batting line reads .353/.410/.676. If I’m going to quibble, I’d point out that his walk rate took a step back this season, but when you’re knocking the snot out of the ball like that, it’s hard to blame Wright for being eager to swing. As ridiculous as it sounds, he’s got an outside shot at tallying 100 extra-base hits for the season. Given his broad base of hitting skills and exceptional defense, it’s hard not to invoke the name of Scott Rolen.
Runner-Up: Dallas McPherson, Angels (Texas League), Age: 23
- SS – Michael Morse, White Sox (Southern League), Age: 22
Morse leads a relatively uninspiring crop of Double-A shortstops. Scouts have always liked the pop in his bat, but heretofore the numbers haven’t been there. This season, Morse seems to have made progress. At Birmingham, which is a modest pitcher’s environment, Morse has hit .287/.336/.536 and is on pace to smack 23 homers. That’s good power from a shortstop, although he still needs to make progress with his plate discipline. Morse stands 6-4, 180, so he’s a bit long and gangly for the position, but his defense is solid so far, though that could change if he adds much weight. In any event, the power stroke is finally showing up in the numbers.
Runner-Up: Josh Wilson, Marlins (Southern League), Age: 23
- OF – Jason Kubel, Twins (Eastern League), Age: 22
You can make a compelling case that the Twins don’t know what to do with the prospects they have, but they certainly know how to get them in the first place. Kubel is the latest example of an underrated yet high-upside position prospect in their system. A 12th-rounder in 2000, Kubel, for a prep talent, is a seasoned hitter. He’s shown patience and good power at every stop, other than last season at Fort Myers, which plays as a pitcher’s park. In ’04, he’s spent almost half the season putting up strong numbers in Triple-A, but prior to that he was doing even better at New Britain. His line in the Eastern League was .377/.453/.667, with 19 walks in 158 plate appearances. Kubel also boasted more extra-base hits than strikeouts and an ISO of almost .300. Additionally, he has a strong arm and good instincts in right. He’ll soon be under the radar no more.
- OF – Franklin Gutierrez, Indians (Eastern League), Age: 21
The key acquisition in the Milton Bradley deal with the Dodgers, Gutierrez has shown impressive raw power at every level despite being younger than his peers. Gutierrez shows good range in center and slugged .513 in the FSL as a 20-year-old. He has excellent bat speed, but he’s vulnerable to breaking stuff and gets pull-conscious at times. This season, he hit .309/.377/.478 at Akron before a recent promotion to Triple-A Buffalo. He could stand to take more walks, but the power potential from an up-the-middle position is genuine.
- OF – Brad Nelson, Brewers (Southern League), Age: 21
A fourth-rounder in 2001, Nelson won 2002 organizational minor league Player of the Year honors after whacking 49 doubles between the Midwest and Cal Leagues. A broken bone in his wrist sapped his production last season and even hindered him in the Arizona Fall League. This season, however, Nelson has been healthy and hitting. In 287 plate appearances in Huntsville, Nelson is batting .279/.345/.512 against much older competition. Note the high ISO, in particular. He hits to all fields and has good bat speed. Nelson has limited range in the outfield, but, as a converted first baseman, he’s entitled to some patience on defense.
Runner-Up: Val Majewski, Orioles (Eastern League), Age: 21
Runner-Up: Nick Gorneault, Angels (Texas League), Age: 25
- SP1 – Jeff Francis, Rockies (Texas League), Age: 23
At this writing, Francis is probably the best pitching prospect in baseball. The ninth overall pick of the 2002 draft, Francis has been impressive in three previous stops, but this year he’s been sublime: 93 innings, 114 K, 18 BB, 2.13 R/G, 6.33 K/BB ratio. The command has obviously been exceptional, and he’s also doing a decent job of keeping the ball in the park. He leads the Texas League in ERA and tops the loop in strikeouts by 30 whiffs. He doesn’t have overwhelming stuff (although he figures to add some speed to his fastball), but he throws three pitches for strikes and displays outstanding command. A promotion to Colorado Springs should be in the offing.
- SP2 – Dan Meyer, Braves (Southern League), Age: 22
The Braves drafted Meyer out of James Madison with a supplemental first-round pick in 2002. He blew away the Appy and Sally Leagues, but last season his K rate slipped a bit despite pitching in Myrtle Beach, the most accommodating pitching environment in the minors. This season, however, Meyer has quelled all concerns: 65 innings, 86 K, 12 BB, 2.35 R/G, 7.17 K/BB ratio. Yep, that’s a command ratio that’s better than Francis’ mark. He throws a low-90s fastball with good movement, a tough slider and a developing change. Meyer also knows the value of working within the strike zone and making hitters miss.
Runner-Up: Abe Alvarez, Red Sox (Eastern League), Age: 21
Next week, I’ll wrap things up with the Triple-A All-Star team.