Bryce Brentz, OF, Red Sox (Double-A Portland)
Brentz began the year as the No. 6 prospect in the system after hitting .306/.365/.574 with 30 home runs during a season that could easily be described as "streaky." The streaks are back, as clearly shown in Brentz' OPS by month: 584, 1072, 873, 576, 1173. Much of the 1173 OPS has been created recently, as with a 7-for-11 weekend, the 23 year-old is now 15-for-28 in his last six games to push his season numbers to .300/.360/.488 in 119 contests. A supplemental first-round pick in 2010, Brentz is not super big or toolsy, but he has hitting ability, enough strength for 55-60 power scores and enough of an arm to profile in right. If they can figure out what causes the crazy hot streaks, or the disturbing cold ones, Brentz could turn into a good everyday corner outfielder down the road.
Wilmer Flores, 3B/2B/1B, Mets (Double-A Binghamton)
On the surface, at least on a statistical level, Flores has had an impressive rebound season. With seven hits and 12 total bases over the weekend, the 21-year-old Venezuelan is hitting .317/.368/.484 in his first 58 games at the upper levels of the Mets system, but his stock really hasn't risen that much as a result. Finally off of shortstop, Flores has split time between second base, where he just doesn't have the athleticism to play, and third base, where he's below average, but acceptable, yet just doesn't have the power to profile. He's certainly better, and certainly still very young, but he's turned into a bit of a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.
J.R. Graham, RHP, Braves (Double-A Mississippi)
A fourth-round pick in 2011 who impressed enough to land at the No. 11 spot in the pre-season Braves prospect rankings, Graham will have no problem landing higher on that list this off-season. After putting up a 2.63 ERA in 17 Carolina League starts with 68 strikeouts and just 17 walks in 102 2/3 innings, Graham has been even more impressive in the Southern League: with six shutout innings on Sunday—while allowing three hits and striking out eight—his M-Brave ERA sits at 2.90 with 38 whiffs in 40 1/3 innings. Strikeouts are not the main part of Graham's game, as the undersized but athletic righty has one of the top sinkers in the game, sitting at 95 mph with movement to generate one of the best groundball rates in the minors. He's flashed an above-average slider and a decent changeup, and he's gone from nice sleeper to one of the better pitching prospects in the system.
Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Rays (Short-season Hudson Valley)
The No. 3 prospect in the system entering the year, Guerrieri's season did not begin until late June for the notoriously conservative Rays, but he's done enough to actually move up their rankings. With five shutout innings on Friday, Guerrieri has a 1.07 ERA in ten starts for the Renegades, and in 42 innings he's allowed 32 hits, struck out 37, walked just two and has yet to allow a home run, all while owning an impressive 2.35 groundball ratio. Basically, there's nothing wrong with his statistical line, and the stuff impresses as well; his fastball, while off from his high school days in terms of velocity, has sat at 90-95 with sink and, more importantly, tremendous control. His power curveball is already plus, and while his changeup lags behind, that's common for a pitcher with his experience, and there's plenty of right now talent to be very excited about.
Danny Hultzen, LHP, Mariners (Triple-A Tacoma)
These are the most confusing prospects in baseball. The ones that turn out so much differently than expected. The ones that have me humming Naked Raygun's “Walk In Cold,” specifically the line, “I swear it's not the way I thought it would be.” Being a left-hander with above-average stuff was not the reason Hultzen was the second overall pick in the 2011 draft; it was his advanced command and control that allowed all his pitches to play up, which led to 165 strikeouts and just 23 walks over 118 innings in his junior year at Virginia. The stuff is still there, as he has plus velocity, a very good changeup and a slider that has actually improved since college, but his ability to throw strikes has gone south. This was no more in evidence than on Friday night when he faced just eight batters, walked four of them, and was outside the strike zone with 24 of his 40 pitches. He's struck out 51 in his 42 innings for Tacoma, a testament to the stuff, but with 33 walks, it's just, for lack of a better term, not that way I thought it would be. Or anyone else for that matter. The minor league season ends next week, and I have no idea what will happen with Hultzen come ranking time.
Michael Kickham, LHP, Giants (Double-A Richmond)
Kickham has been hanging around the Giants prospect rankings for a while now, as he ranked ninth coming into the year and 11th entering 2011, and he's poised to move up a bit next year. He's still the same pitcher: a big left-hander with plus velocity and a solid slider that keeps on working, as it did this year when the Giants skipped the 23-year-old to the upper levels after pitching in Low-A last year. With six hitless innings and seven strikeouts on Friday night, Kickham now has a 2.91 ERA, but with five more walks, there are still control issues, as he's now walked 73 in 142 1/3 innings. He still projects as a No. 4 starter, which is no different than what he projected as coming into the year, but he's suddenly a lot closer to actually being that.
Marcell Ozuna, LF, Marlins (High-A Jupiter)
Ozuna has been giving scouts fits all year. He leads the Florida State League in runs, home runs and RBI, but he's needed a .360/.412/.640 August, which included a 5-for-8 weekend, to bring his triple-slash line up to .263/.326/.466 in 122 games. He has plus-plus raw power, and is a good right fielder with a strong arm, but scouts just don't know if he's going to hit enough in the end, as much of the year his batting average has sat in the .230-.250 range; while he's not a total free swinger, he's hardly a walk machine. For now, he's still a guy with a lot of tools and considerable upside, but he doesn't seem any closer to it.
Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers (High-A Rancho Cucamonga)
After missing three games with a minor heel injury, Puig returned to action on Sunday and went 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles. It's the tiniest of sample sizes, but the 21-year-old Cuban has hit .361 in his first ten games and he's shown plus raw power, plus speed and good defense in right field along with a physicality that one scout compared to Mike Tyson. This isn't about Puig, as much as it's about the year of the Cubans when it comes to baseball and prospects. There was a time when people were understandably tentative when it came to Cuban players, most of whom disappointed, so many thought the slew of recent outfielders earning high praise for their tools were over-hyped. Instead, Yoenis Cespedes has exceeded all expectations in the big leagues, Jorge Soler has looked outstanding so far the the Cubs, and so far so good for Puig. It's the best way to rid the world of a stereotype that shouldn't have existed in the first place, as players are players, regardless of where they are from.
Darin Ruf, OF, Phillies (Double-A Reading)
Ruf is the currently the leader in Twitter questions, as with home runs on Friday and Sunday, he's now hit 17 home runs in his last 24 games and is tied for the minor league lead with 35 home runs as part of a .316/.407/.617 overall line. Some are already calling him Babe Ruf. Get it? Reality check time folks. Yes, Ruf is having a tremendous season, but keep in mind that he's 26. That might not be fair, but go name all of the big leaguers with successful careers who turned 26 the year they got to Double-A. Not ones who were at Double-A at 26, but actually got to Double-A at 26. Yes, he might be something unique and historic, but do you want to bet on it? Do you want to bet on it when scouts call him a bad ball hitter who does the overwhelming amount of his damage against lefties? How about it when they compare him to Matt Rizzotti, the last too-old-for-the-level guy to put up huge numbers for Reading? Don't get me wrong, I root for guys like Ruf, and hope he gets some kind of platoon opening, but he's not suddenly replacing Ryan Howard or anything, and he doesn't deserve this much excitement.
Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pirates (Double-A Altoona)
This was the year that Taillon was supposed to break out, but that didn't happen during the first four-and-a-half months in the Florida State League, as the second overall pick put up a 3.82 ERA with 98 strikeouts in 125 innings. Those are not the kind of statistics one expects from one of the top pitching prospects in the game, but that's changed in the Eastern League, as Taillon had arguably the best start of his career on Sunday, striking out seven over six one-hit innings, and needing just 69 pitches in the process. That gives Taillon 11 shutout innings since moving up to Double-A, and the scouting reports have been stunning, but do two starts really move the needle that much? This is one of the things that prospect rankers struggle with. Right in front of me, I have a 20-year-old righty absolutely crushing it in the upper levels. In the not-so-distant past, I have 92% of his starts on the season—and at a lower level mind you—adding up to more than just a bit of a disappointment. The need for more data is obvious, but Taillon will make just one more start during the regular season, and Altoona is not bound for the post-season.