Carlos Carrasco, RHP, Triple-A Lehigh Valley (Phillies)

Carrasco entered the year as the Phillies’ top prospect, but his performance had been disappointing right up until the end of the season when he finished with a flourish. The 21-year-old Venezuelan put up a 4.32 ERA at Double-A Reading in 20 appearances, and while his ratios had been solid, he was hit hard far too often for a top prospect. Sent to Triple-A at the beginning of August, he made six starts for the Iron Pigs, and pitched very well in five of them, including 6 2/3 shutout innings with nine strikeouts in his final outing of the year-giving him a 1.72 ERA in the International League with 46 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings. The fact that he’s not on the 40-man roster yet makes his chances for a big-league debut this month dicey, but he’s lined up to compete for a job in the rotation next spring.

Dan Cortes, RHP, Double-A Northwest Arkansas (Royals)

In some ways, Cortes’ season mirrored Carrasco’s (although he did miss a month early on with a strained quad). Yes, he was good, but a lot of people expected more, and like Carrasco he saved his best for last. On Friday night, Cortes finished his regular season with six no-hit innings, but he needed that start and a good one last week (six innings, one run) to finish the season with an ERA below four. It’s hard to complain about his stuff, as his fastball and curve both rate as plus offerings, but his command went backwards and he finished having allowed 55 walks in 116 2/3 innings. He’ll be one of the better pitching prospects in the Arizona Fall League this year, and should be in the big leagues by mid 2009.

Tommy Hanson, RHP, Double-A Mississippi (Braves)

Hanson began his breakout campaign by striking out 13 over five no-hit innings for High-A Myrtle Beach. He finished his season this weekend by striking out nine over five shutout innings (two hits) for the Braves’ Double-A affiliate. In between, he had some pretty spectacular outings as well, including a no-hitter (of the real, nine-inning variety) with 14 strikeouts in late June. Hanson’s final numbers explain why he’s the top pitching prospect in the system, as in his 138 innings he recorded almost twice as many strikeouts (163) as he had hits allowed (85). He’s six-foot-six, relatively clean mechanically in his delivery, and he has a classic power repertoire. He projects as a number-two starter in the big leagues, and will likely begin next year at Triple-A with the goal of having him ready by midseason.

Andrew Lambo, OF, Double-A Jacksonville (Dodgers)

A fourth-round pick last June, Lambo was easily the top hitting prospect for the Dodgers’ Low-A affiliate at Great Lakes, batting .288/.346/.462 in the toughest offensive league in the minors. That performance prompted the Dodgers to move aggressively with him; in a system surprisingly light on prospects, Lambo was double-jumped to Double-A-as much to create Arizona Fall League eligibility as to provide him with a challenge-and the 19-year-old proved to be more than up for it, going 14-for-36 with two doubles, a triple, and three home runs in his eight games for the Suns. He’s not exactly toolsy, and his lack of athleticism will limit him to first base or left field, but the kid can really hit, and he will likely return to Double-A next year in what is suddenly becoming an expedited path up the ladder.

Jesus Montero, C, Low-A Charleston (Yankees)

In a season during which he was as young as most of this year’s high-school draftees, Montero had a full-season debut that could only be described as outstanding. He made a run at the batting title (finishing second) by going 11-for-22 in his last four games, and led the Sally League with 171 hits in a .326/.376/.491 campaign while seeming to improve with each passing week. Montero’s hitting tools and raw power are near the top of the charts, and despite an anticipated move to first base, the bat is going to be more than enough wherever he goes. This is a special offensive prospect.

Dan Osterbrock, LHP, Rookie-Level Elizabethton (Twins)

A relatively obscure seventh-round pick this June out of the University of Cincinnati, Osterbrock gained a lot of attention during his pro debut, compiling an eye-popping 104 strikeouts against only eight walks in 75 innings. He added an exclamation point to the season over the weekend by clinching an Appy-League title for Elizabethton with 11 more strikeouts (and of course, no walks) in seven shutout innings. Osterbrock has the perfect formula for domination in the lower levels-throw strikes, and have at least one really good secondary offering (in his case, a very good changeup). He’s not a total finesse guy however, as his fastball has at least average velocity and comes up a grade based on its location and movement. He’s not a monster prospect, but he’s way ahead of most seventh-round picks.

Michael Pineda, RHP, Low-A Wisconsin (Mariners)

Big-time sleeper alert! Pineda ended his full-season debut with arguably the best pitching performance in the Midwest League this season-striking out 14 in a nine-inning complete-game one-hitter. He finished the year second in the league with a sterling 1.95 ERA, while limiting opposing batters to a .216 average and striking out 128 against just 35 walks in 138 1/3 innings. Six-foot-five and seemingly even longer than that, Pineda was part of one of the most interesting rotations in the league this year-one that also featured 2007 first-round pick Phillippe Aumont and fireballer Juan Carlos Ramirez-and for all three of them it was the same story: love the body, love the fastball (Pineda gets his up to 93 mph, with projection for more), and sure hope that secondary stuff comes around. At just 19 years of age, Pineda has plenty of time.

Mike Stanton, OF, Low-A Greensboro (Marlins)

To say that this second-round pick from June ’07 had a breakout season doesn’t really do it justice. Only 18 years old (he doesn’t turn 19 until November), Stanton slugged three home runs in his final two games and five in his last six to finish the year with 39, just one short of the South Atlantic League record as part of a .293/.381/.611 season. Have we mentioned that he got off to a slow start power-wise, hitting just three home runs in his first 27 games of the year, and then 36 in the 98 games thereafter? This kind of right-now, in-game power is nearly unprecedented for a player this young; so rare that I really can’t find anyone who gives much weight at all to his 153 strikeouts.

Jose Tabata, OF, Double-A Altoona (Pirates)

Tabata was this season’s biggest disappointment in the Yankees system, but a funny thing happened following his move to the Pirates organization as part of the Xavier Nady trade-he started hitting, and hitting, and then he hit some more. With six hits in his last three games, Tabata ended up raking to the tune of .348/.402/.562 in his 22 games at Pittsburgh’s Double-A affiliate; looking once again like one of the better young hitters in the game. He even played a decent center field and stole eight bases without being caught (and that after swiping only 10 in 79 games for the Yankees’ Eastern League squad). It doesn’t totally discount the first two-thirds of the season in which Tabata did practically nothing, but it already makes the trade look better for Pittsburgh than it did at the time of execution.

Angel Villalona, 1B, Low-A Augusta (Giants)

This was probably not the best year to be a young hitter in the South Atlantic League; with the performances by Montero, Stanton, and many others, it was easy to be overlooked. Just 17 years old for most of the season, Villalona’s mediocre performance had him getting passed by for good reason, but with his size, swing, and age, most scouts remain quite high on him, and he finished the year strong, going 6-for-11 with a pair of home runs in his last three games of the season and hitting .308/.363/.529 in August. If Montero was as young as most of this year’s high school draftees, Villalona is as young as most of next year’s group, and despite an overall line of .263/.312/.435, he remains an excellent prospect.