Ranking prospects by position has been done—at least, it has been attempted in the traditional sense [read: standard formula, i.e., #1. Best. #2. Second-best. #3. Third-best. You get it.]. Instead of following the standard formula, I thought I would offer something a little different, though the fundamental objective will remain the same: identifying baseball’s best prospects at each position.
Over the next 11 installments, I’ll focus on one position on the field, identify the preeminent talent in the minors at said position, and place them into cute little tiers to contextualize their place in my world. It’s an earnest and sincere exercise, delivered with some (attempted) humor, so hopefully it will be taken as such. I want to embrace the subjective nature of the task rather than pretend to be objective about it, which is great in theory, but not practical in its application. Everybody looks at players through a unique lens, and as a result, personal feelings enter into the equation. I’m cool with this. As I said, I’m going to attempt to deliver a sincere and earnest series, free from the artificiality associated with presenting a universal truth. Opinions change based on the climate of the moment. This is a snapshot of that moment.
Before we begin, two quick rules: First rule: Only players currently playing in the minors (or soon to be playing in the minors) are eligible for inclusion in the rankings. Second rule: This is my series, and I can do what I want. If I decide to rank a recent draftee over your team’s top prospect despite a lack of professional experience or statistical evidence, you can’t stop me. If I decide to subjectively punish a player for being from Canada or Oklahoma, and rank him accordingly, you can’t stop me. I doubt this will occur, but I thought you needed to know. Process Prospectus.
Leader of the Pack (Present): This will identify the current alpha dog, the top prospect at the position.
Leader of the Pack (Future): This will identify the prospect most likely to take the top spot away from Leader of the Pack (Present). For the post-modernists out there, the current Leader of the Pack (Present) can also be identified as the Leader of the Pack (Future), if so applicable.
Midriff: This category is for the players that (just) fall behind the top prospect at their position in the minors. Because of the subjective nature of the ranking system, several players on this list could find a home at the top of other prospect rankings, and the “midriff” distinction is not meant to be a seasoning with a pejorative taste.
Because the midriff tier is often thick with talent (In all honesty, this is an example of accidental entendre), I’ve decided to separate the tier into two divisions: “The High-Ceiling Division” and “Lacks the Ultimate Ceiling of the ‘High-Ceiling Division’ but Still Packs a Serious Prospect Punch Division.”
As you can deduce, any number of prospects from this tier can quickly emerge as upper-echelon talent, if they aren’t already classified as such outside of these specific rankings. Remember: Just because a player is placed in the Midriff doesn’t mean I consider him a middle-of-the-pack prospect; rather, I consider him to be beneath the top player at their respected position. The strength of the positional field will ultimately determine the context in which we judge the prospect. See the first sentence of the second rule for further clarification.
In the Shadows: This will identify the player who is currently lingering on the outskirts of mainstream recognition, yet has the ceiling to become a top prospect (relative to the position.) Prospects in the shadows might be considered good secondary candidates to emerge in the Leaders of the Pack (Future) tier, but are underdeveloped or underappreciated (for whatever reason) at the present.
In the Dark: This will identify the player who is basically an unknown entity to most fans, a player with the raw stuff (emphasis on stuff) to shoot up prospect lists and the raw stuff (emphasis on raw) to avoid the rewards of developmental progress.
I Just Don’t get it: This will identify the player whose prospect status confuses me, for reasons to be determined.
Leader of the Pack (Present): Shelby Miller
The case for: First and foremost, Shelby Miller is a Texan, and therefore already has an advantage over his competition for this title. I’m open about my bias. See the second rule.
From a scouting perspective, Miller has everything I look for in a future top-of-the-rotation arm. With prototypical size (6-foot-3 195 pounds) and room for additional strength, Miller has the body and the delivery to log innings and maintain his stuff deep into games. His fastball is a legit plus pitch, and can show plus-plus velocity, as he touches the upper 90s at times. The curveball is another above-average offering, flashing plus more than it flashes the potential to be plus, with excellent depth to the break and a tight spin. As with most young power pitchers, Miller’s changeup was underdeveloped in relation to his other offerings when he was drafted, but it has quickly emerged as another plus-potential pitch. It plays well off his fastball with good weight and some arm-side fading action.
With his frame, his tenacity, his smooth delivery, his being a Texan, his power arsenal that could/should leave him with three plus pitches when he reaches maturity, and the overall command that seems to gain refinement by the outing, Miller is the present leader of the pack of right-handed pitchers, and one could make a very convincing case that he is the top prospect in the game itself. After all, legit aces are baseball’s most precious commodities, and Miller has all the characteristics necessary to fulfill this projection.
The case against: I can’t think of one.
Leader of the Pack (Future): Gerrit Cole
The case for: Despite somewhat underwhelming results in college, Cole entered the draft with the best combination of present stuff and future ceiling. Armed with three pitches that have 70 potential (meaning three pitches that could grade out as well above average at the major-league level; plus-plus), Cole brings an “ace’s” arsenal to the table. In my scouting report on Cole published back on March 14, I made the case that his combination of size and stuff would make him the top pitching prospect in the game the day he enters the professional ranks, and even though Miller is currently the Leader of the Pack (Present), his hold on the position depends on how fast Cole finds his footing. Cole has franchise-altering potential, so if he puts it together, he’s the best prospect at the position.
The Case Against:To this point, the most frustrating aspect of Cole’s game has been the tug-of-war between his crazy-good stuff and his crazy-average production; one side represents your love of the stuff, the other side is the doubt that stems from the lack of total dominance. At some point, players with plus-plus tools need to offer plus-plus production, and inconsistency is the muzak in the developmental waiting room. I think Cole puts it together as a pro, but the case against him is that a player with three 70-grade futures in his arsenal shouldn’t carry doubts about the ability to dominate.
Julio Teheran (Braves)
TCF: He has a good delivery and a mature approach to pitching. Teheran has a plus fastball and the potential for a plus-plus changeup. He projects to be a second starter on a championship-level team. Until recently, I considered Teheran to be the Leader of the Pack (Present). I guess that makes him Leader of Pack (Past). Like I needed to make this more convoluted than it already is.
Jacob Turner (Tigers)
TCF: He has two pitches with 70 futures (fastball/curveball), tons o’ projection, and a good feel for the mound. Turner is a prototypical power arm from Texas, except he’s from Missouri, which hurts him a bit.
Jameson Taillon (Pirates)
TCF: Taillon has a case for Leader of the Pack (Future) with his potential for two plus-plus pitches, a strong, durable frame, and his legit “ace” potential, but he’s still in the early development stages. He’s a prototypical power arm from Texas who benefits from actually being from Texas.
Dylan Bundy (Orioles)
TCF: Bundy is arguably the most polished high school arm in recent memory. His arsenal could end up with three above-average offerings, with an easy plus fastball and very good cutter that can both look elite at times, as well as a very good curveball. He has ace potential.
“Lacks the Ultimate Ceiling of the ‘High-Ceiling Division’ but Still Packs a Serious Prospect Punch Division”
Casey Kelly (Padres)
Kelly is ultra-athletic with a smooth delivery and advanced pitchability. He might not have “ace” potential, but his solid-average to plus arsenal will make him a middle-of-the-rotation starter at the very least, and possibly a quality second starter if everything falls into place.
Anthony Ranaudo (Red Sox)
TCF: Thanks to his height, Ranaudo produces a steep fastball with good natural weight. He has a plus curveball and a solid-average changeup. Though he lacks an elite ceiling, he has a high floor.
Matt Harvey (Mets)
Harvey has a prototypical body, serving up a plus fastball, plus-plus potential curveball, and an improving changeup. His high ceiling is still possible, but his high floor is likely.
In the Shadows: Carlos Martinez (Cardinals)
Martinez lacks prototypical size, but the 19-year-old brings 80-grade arm speed to the table, which produces a plus-plus fastball that works in the mid-90s and can touch elite velocity in bursts. His hard curveball already shows plus potential, with a tight rotation and good depth. His changeup could emerge as a third above-average offering, but will need time to develop and refine.
With a deep arsenal and some feel for the mound, Martinez looks to have top-of-the-rotation potential, and those I’ve spoken with believe his delivery is clean enough to remain a starter. Known more for his plus-plus nom de guerre action than his well-rounded plus-potential arsenal, Martinez has the talent to become a household name by the end of the season. He has a chance to be special.
In the Dark: David Perez (Rangers)
The only thing I love more than protectable pitchers are projectable pitchers who already have an advanced feel for fastball command. This 18-year-old Dominican stands a lanky 6-foot-5, with arms longer than Carlos Martinez’s body and the frame to add strength as he matures. His fastball works in the low 90s, but can touch the mid- to upper-90s in bursts. His curveball plays very well off the fastball, as his delivery is silky-smooth and he has a consistent release point with all of his pitches. The pitch itself (curveball) shows a good, tight spin, and should develop into a plus pitch with more bite as he adds velocity to it. Academically speaking, the changeup has potential based on the repeatable mechanics/release points (how many lanky 18 year olds have repeatable mechanics?), allowing for deception, the hallmark of a good changeup.
Perez’s overall feel for the mound, present stuff, and crazy projectability give him the characteristics of a future frontline starter. Development can throw some hurdles in his path, but the total package could create a Leader of the Pack (Future) opportunity. By the end of the 2011 season, Perez will start to receive more attention, and by the time he leaves his teenage years, he could be a top-tier baseball prospect. I’m a believer.
I Just Don’t get it: Kyle Gibson (Twins)
You know, I’ve just never been a fan of Gibson. It’s not that I’m monochromatic with my preferences; I have the ability to appreciate pitchability as much as I appreciate raw stuff. But when I see a 6-foot-6, 210-pound righty, I expect to see more than a boring fastball, and I’m not referencing the pitch action. Gibson often gets mentioned as a top prospect, but I think his high floor distorts the attractiveness of his modest ceiling. He’s a very good pitcher that has good-looking numbers, but Gibson is a command/control innings eater, which is valuable and awesome and everything else, but it’s not a ceiling I look for when ranking the best in the field.