Friday, January 29, 2010

TEAM #7 – Minnesota Twins

Expect a breakout 2010 from Aaron Hicks

Our 2010 Prospect eGuide is less than two weeks away. If you have enjoyed this series, then check out the details here: .

The Minnesota Twins are our #7 team. They earn that ranking primarily as a function of two things: 1) Their top three prospects can go head to head with most any trio in baseball and 2) There is a tremendous amount of depth in the ‘B+/B/B-‘ grade range. But there is a downside, as few of their top prospects, outside of Gibson, are anywhere close to making a contribution at the Big League level in 2010 or 2011. Of brighter note, the system is well-balanced between position players and pitchers, as well as between high-ceiling and high-floor types. The last few drafts have been solid, and their International Scouting is becoming about as productive as anyone. They still seem to target too many guys with the ceiling of bullpen material for my liking, but all-in-all this is one of the perennially stronger organizations in baseball, as we haven’t had them in the second division in over seven years.

Grade A

1) Aaron Hicks, CF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 54; First Base Rate 65; Discipline 53; Speed 48)

Hicks was one the drafts fastest risers on Draft Day 2008, with some debate as to whether he’d be drafted as a hitter or a pitcher. The Twins snared him at #14, and he debuted in the GCL, posting the #2 Performance Score. Still just 19yo, the Twins sent him to the pitching friendly MWL in 2009, where he posted the #12 Performance Score in that circuit. While a relatively raw, highly-athletic, ‘toolsy’ type that usually gives us pause, Hicks has already demonstrated some performance skills. Despite being one of the younger players in the MWL in 2009, he posted league average or better numbers across the board. The only negative about Hicks is that he needs time. His raw tools are evident. They already translate into reasonable production, and should explode as he picks up the finer points of the game. With a Torii Hunter like upside, look for him to open 2010 in the FSL.

2) Kyle Gibson, RHP -

We had Gibson as the best collegiate pitcher, not named Strasburg, in last June’s draft, right up until he was shut down with a stress fracture in his forearm. Despite this, he still went into draft day at #11 on our board and fell to the Twins at #22. The scouting community tends to knock him because he doesn’t have a true dominating out-pitch, but he adds a low-90s fastball to a potentially plus Slider and Change, then combines that with tremendous pitchability and a High baseball IQ. Add to that, at 6’6”, 208lbs and only 22yo, there is still upside projection in his frame. The negative is that Gibson profiles as ‘only’ a #2 type pitcher at his peak. For us however, the more important thing is that he has one of the higher-floors among all pitchers in the Minors. Gibson looked recovered in instructionals and should open the season at Hi-A.

Grade A-

3) Miguel Sano, 3B –

Sano was widely regarded as the best Latin American talent available this past summer, and was widely thought to be signing with the Pirates until difficulties between the team and his representation created a rift. The Twins happily stepped in and signed him for $3.1MM, and even got his paperwork approved in what was one of this year’s most exhaustive investigations. He is a large, strong, attacking type of hitter that projects to have above average hit skills across the board--with potentially plus power. Although he has been a shortstop growing up, the Twins plan on using him exclusively at 3B. If he outgrows that, his strong arm will profile nicely in RF. His ceiling is enormous. Signing any 16yo kid from Latin America is a gamble, but—to us, Sano looks like the best of those gambles this year. Look for the Twins to have him debut in the GCL this summer.

4) Ben Revere, CF (2009 – Power 28; First Base Rate 77; Discipline 79; Speed 77)

We thought it was a bit of a reach pick when the Twins made Revere a first round selection in 2007—admittedly not the first time, and we were surprised when he posted the top Performance score in his GCL debut that year and followed that up with the Top score in the MWL in 2008. Now facing the more advanced pitching of the FSL, in 2009, we got a bit more of what we expected from Revere, as he posted the League’s #9 score. It’s not that we don’t like Revere, he possesses plus contact skills, plus speed, and excellent plate management skills. Essentially, we have two problems with him: 1) His power is virtually non-existent (3 HRs in nearly 1000 professional ABs) and isn’t likely to develop into much more than a 4-5 home run per year skill; and 2) while he uses his speed to cover a lot of outfield ground, he has a weak arm and isn’t an instinctual CF. While there is little doubt that he could become an effective ‘disruptive’ force at the top of the order, unless he can stay in CF, he is little more than a 4th OF--that’s a fairly high risk. While there is a significant upside to Revere, we expect a Juan Pierre type player to be the more likely outcome. Revere will advance to AA in 2010.

Grade B+

5) Wilson Ramos, C (2009 – Power 57; First Base Rate 39; Discipline 76; Speed 32)

The strength of the Twins system can best be defined by the fact that we are down to the #5 position on the list, and we are still talking about prospects that appear to be better than even-money to be everyday Big League starters. Originally viewed, as a defense first catching prospect, Ramos has quietly developed an offensive game that is capable of playing every day in the Majors, as he posted a top 20 Performance in the ESL. Ramos possesses average power skills, and above average strike zone management skills. Defensively, he shows solid ‘receive’ skills with a plus arm. On the downside, he ‘runs like a catcher’, and likely only has below average contact skills. Ramos was solid in Venezuela this winter, showing that he is likely near Major League ready. Expect him to begin 2010 in AAA, with a shot at making the Twins sometime in 2010.

6) Adrian Salcedo, RHP (2009 – Dominance 66; Stamina 78; HRrate 50; Control 77)

After finishing the 2008 DSL season with the #3 Performance Score, Salcedo went one better in 2009, posting the top score in the GCL. Sometimes it is difficult to not get over-excited about rookie league players, and we have to admit having that issue here. Sacledo is a physical beast as an 18yo at 6’4”, 175lbs. He has significant upside projection, already possesses a low 90s fastball that could be a mid-90s offering before he is done. His fastball may be only his second best pitch, as he also possesses a tremendous curve. While certainly still a developing offering, his change shows potential. The best part is that he has a high degree of pitchability, with impeccable command. No pitcher in the system has a higher upside than Salcedo, who has the makings of a future front of the rotation stud. That being said, Salcedo won’t get his first taste of full-season A-ball until this Spring, so we are still a ways off.

7) Angel Morales, CF (2009 – Power 74; First Base Rate 36; Discipline 35; Speed 74)

Morales broke onto the prospect radar screen, with a monster APY season in 2008, that netted him the League’s Top Performance score. He followed that up with the #9 Score in the MWL this past season, and his detractors are still disappointed. Morales is a highly-athletic, ‘toolsy’ player, that has produced. His power skills are potentially plus, and his speed is above average. Defensively he has the range to man center and the arm to be a plus defender in right. Few people in the system have Morales’ upside—that of a power hitting right fielder that plays gold glove defense. The downside is that Morales still has pitch recognition problems and his overly-aggressive approach led to a 25.6% strikeout rate in 2009. This will have to continue to improve in order for him to have success as he moves up the ladder. Look for Morales to play 2010 in the FSL—as a 20yo.

8) Chris Parmelee, 1B (2009 – Power 77; First Base Rate 61; Discipline 37; Speed 36)

Parmelee was a first round selection in 2006, and has developed pretty much along the lines that were expected of him—even if not what was hoped for. Lacking any real mobility Parmelee is likely destined for firstbase, even though his arm and bat could play as a corner OF. This makes the bar slightly higher for him, and highlights his continued tendency to miss good fastballs (22.4% strikeout rate). With potentially plus power and the patience to take a walk, Parmelee has the skills necessary to become a solid average Major League firstbaseman. Still just 21yo, he will open up 2010 in AA, so there is still plenty of time. While we aren’t tremendously disappointed by his development thus far, we just haven’t seen enough yet to get excited about either—yet.

Grade B

9) Oswaldo Arcia, LF (2009 – Power 78; First Base Rate 47; Discipline 76; Speed 77)

After posting a top 15 Performance Score in the 2008 DSL, Arcacia led a talented group of former DSL alumni, in the 2009 GCL, by posting that League’s Top score. With plus power potential, plus plate discipline, above average speed and solid contact skills, Arcia provides a complete offensive package. Defensively, he possesses solid corner outfield skills, but, an only average arm may precipitate a move to LF as he matures. The only downside to Arcia is that he is already an amazingly polished hitter for an 18yo, and doesn’t offer a lot of additional projection. He has the ceiling of an above average everyday Major League corner OF, and will see his first taste of full-season A-ball in 2010.

10) Max Kepler-Rozycki, OF –

Kepler is the highest profile position player to ever come from Europe, and should soon be battling Alex Liddi as the best European position player prospect. Kepler has a true five-tool potential, with tremendous upside, but is significantly raw. Once again pointing to Liddi, while Liddi had a solid debut season in the GCL, it took four years, before things all started to come together. It is not unreasonable to expect a similar development curve for Kepler—although Kepler is coming in with a higher profile. Kepler possesses above average power potential, plus speed and solid contact abilities. His defense is his most advanced skill. Expect his strike zone management skills to take the longest to develop, as he has not seen comparable pitching to what he is about to face. The Twins will take their time with Kepler, likely starting him in the GCL this summer.

11) Deolis Guerra, RHP (2009 – Dominance 41; Stamina 70; HRrate 48; Control 65)

Guerra will unfortunately always carry the burden of being the key player involved in the Santana trade. It’s a heavy cross to bear, and Guerra hasn’t worn it well. In 2008, the first year after the trade, he posted his worst season as a professional. However, if one eliminates his past—both the good and the bad, and just focus on the 2009 season, we find that he posted the #11 Performance Score in the FSL, before posting the #4 Score in the ESL. Guerra doesn’t turn 21yo until a week after the 2010 season begins, and he will likely be opening back in the ESL. There is plenty of upside remaining here, but there are also significant concerns, as his fastball is only a 90mph pitch and his best out-pitch is his change. While his command has improved, it still is only average at best. While we feel that he will never become the pitcher the Twins thought they were potentially getting in the Santana deal, he still can become a solid mid-rotation starter.

12) David Bromberg, RHP (2009 – Dominance 63; Stamina 73; HRrate 49; Control 42)

Not a tremendously high ceiling prospect, Blomberg does offer an intriguing mix of a developed repertoire and sound pitchability. Though he doesn’t possess a true wipe-out offering, he has managed to strikeout batters at a 9.5 batters per 9IP rate during his career. He doesn’t get a lot of notoriety, yet has finished with top ten Performance Scores in each of his last three seasons. While he isn’t likely to become anything more than a back of the rotation starter, Bromberg is the type of pitcher that fills out rotations and eats innings over long careers. He’ll start 2010 in AA as a 22yo, and looks poised to join the Twins sometime in 2011.

13) Danny Valencia, 3B (2009 – Power 66; First Base Rate 38; Discipline 65; Speed 31)

The Twins have been positioning Valencia to be their regular thirdbaseman for two seasons now. Possessing above average power and solid strike zone management skills…we have come to the end of his positive credentials. Defensively he is below average. From a speed standpoint he’s worse than that. He has consistently played a year or so below what he should have played—inflating his mediocre statistics. In a nutshell—if the Twins want to make him their everyday thirdbaseman, it is certainly their prerogative, but Valencia has a reserve player/pinch hitter ceiling. Don’t get us wrong, he’ll likely get his chance—perhaps as early as this spring, but don’t expect the results to be pretty.

Grade B-

14) Joe Benson, CF (2009 – Power 52; First Base Rate 79; Discipline 31; Speed 61)

There are some players that you just never quite get the fascination with. Benson is one of those players for us, as he is a nice prospect, but certainly one without significant upside…one that has always danced around the fringes of true ‘prospectdom’ but never quite broken through. 2009 provided more of the same, as Benson posted a solid season, but still fell just outside of the top 25 scores in the FSL. With potentially plus contact and speed skills, there is material to work with here. Benson has average power and a strong arm, so, with the likes of Revere and Hicks in the system, a move to RF is likely on the horizon. He has the ceiling of an average, everyday, Major League RF. However, none of that is likely to happen if he can’t cut down on his strikeout rate that has been a steady 24% over the course of his career. 2010 will find Benson in AA.

15) Carlos Gutierrez, RHP (2009 – Dominance 32; Stamina 53; HRrate 50; Control 40)

We get the Gutierrez infatuation, as his sinker is one of the Minor’s best, if not the best. What we question is whether that is enough to make a successful Major League career. That being said, Gutierrez is one of the hardest analysis for our computer models, because how he pitches is so unique. What we do know is that there have been few pitchers that fan less than 6 batters per 9IP, while walking nearly 4 that go on to successful careers. We agree with the Twins that he will have better success as a starter than as a reliever, but we remain skeptical for either one. Look for Gutierrez to return to AA to begin 2010 for at least one-half season.

16) Matt Bashore, LHP –
We had Bashore rated as a late second round pick on draft day, about a round later than where the Twins selected him. We saw him pitch frequently this spring, and he cuts an imposing figure on the mound. We see him as a back of the rotation innings eater, but one who has a high-floor, but a low-ceiling. Bashore possesses a low-90s fastball, with three solid secondary offerings—all of which he commands well. The downside is that none of them profile as an out-pitch. After minor off-season surgery, Bashore hopes to be ready this Spring. When he debuts, it is likely to be in the FSL.

17) Billy Bullock, RP (2009 – Dominance 75; Stamina 25; HRrate 50; Control 39)

Unlike us, the Twins aren’t reticent about drafting college relief pitchers, and Bullock is just the latest. We had Bullock as a third round talent, but the Twins tabbed him in round two. Bullock is a two-pitch pitcher, and neither of them is significantly off-speed. His mid-90s fastball is what he typically uses to blow past hitters. Facing less developed talent in the APY and the MWL, he racked up nearly 12 Ks per 9IP. At 6’6”, 235lb, his appearance adds further intimidation. The downside is that he often times doesn’t know where the pitch will end up. The Twins believe that Bullock could be there closer one-day. Until he gets a chance against more advanced hitters, it is all speculation. Look for him to start 2010 in the FSL, with an outside chance of making it to Minnesota by September.

18) Trevor Plouffe, SS (2009 – Power 50; First Base Rate 41; Discipline 64; Speed 35)

The Twins first round pick in 2004, passed the 2500 Minor League AB mark last season…a number that doesn’t usually portend significant Major league success. Plouffe’s problem is that none of his skills are better than average, and a few of them—like lack of speed and marginal defense, don’t play well at his position. Offensively he doesn’t show enough with the bat to profile anywhere else. This pretty much leaves him as a utility type option at the Major League level as his upside. The Twins management still believe in him, and although he is likely to begin 2010 in AAA, he is expecting his first Big League shot before the end of the season. At only 23yo, there is still time for Plouffe, but the time is running short.

19) Josmil Pinto, C/DH (2009 – Power 80; First Base Rate 55; Discipline 64; Speed 29)

We have to put Pinto on this list, although defensively the only position he truly profiles at is ‘hitter’. That didn’t stop the portly Pinto from posting the APY League’s Top Performance Score. With plus power potential, and above average contact and plate discipline skills, there is little doubt about Pinto’s ability to hit. But there is absolutely no speed and no defensive ability. Pinto will get a shot at full season A-ball in 2010, but he will have to continue to hit the cover off of the ball to have any chance at all.

20) Tyler Robertson, LHP (2009 – Dominance 39; Stamina 72; HRrate 49; Control 51)

Robertson is a low-ceiling lefty, that gets by with an advanced four-pitch repertoire, centered around a plus curve. His fastball is a high-80s offering, and that limits the effectiveness of his change. Worse yet, his control is barely average, not what you would want for a pitcher with the lack of Robertson’s pure stuff. Still he still managed a Top 20 Performance score in the FSL in 2009. Robertson, doesn’t have much upside beyond that of a back of the rotation starter. He doesn’t even possess a high probability of achieving that. Robertson will begin 2010 in the ESL.

21) Alex Burnett, RP (2009 – Dominance 70; Stamina 26; HRrate 49; Control 57)

After a disappointing 2008, the Twins shifted Burnett to the bullpen this past season and he responded well. With a low- to mid-90s fastball, and an average change, he has the stuff of a late inning bullpen guy. The downside is that Burnett’s breaking ball is a fringy offering at best. Closing is still relatively new to Burnett, and at 22yo we will give him some time to grow into the role. If he is going to be successful he will have to improve his control and develop some semblance of a breaking ball. He’ll take his act to AA in 2010.

22) Rene Tosoni, RF (2009 – Power 69; First Base Rate 46; Discipline 41; Speed 48)

While Tosoni possesses no exceptional skills, he also has few weaknesses—a formula that he rode to a Top 25 Performance score in the ESL in 2009. There isn’t a high upside with Tosoni, as while he possesses the defensive skills to play any of the three outfield positions, his bat doesn’t profile at a corner, and his base-running is lacking for center. He shows equal versatility in much of the infield, where, while his bat may play in the middle, his defense does not. While we don’t envision Tosoni as a starter in the Big Leagues at any position, there is a playable bat with tremendous defensive versatility, that would make a valuable 24th man. He’ll advance to AAA to open 2010, and with another solid effort, he could earn a roster spot by September.

Grade C+ Prospects –

23) Juan Portes, UT; 24) B.J. Hermsen, RHP; 25) Liam Hendriks, RHP; 26) Tom Stuifbergen, RHP; 27) Ben Tootle, RHP; 28) Jeff Manship, RHP; 30) Michael Tonkin, RHP; 31) Loek Van Mil, RP; 32) Daniel Santana, SS; 33) Brad Tippett, RHP; 34) Derek McCallum, 2B.

Grade C Prospects –

James Beresford; Cesar Ciurcina; Estarlin de los Santos; Rob Delaney; Brian Dozier; Pedro Guerra; Chris Herrmann; Steve Hirschfield; Luke Hughes; Edgar Ibarra; Bobby Lanigan; Steve Liddle; Jose Lugo; Mike McCardell; Jose Morales; Jorge Polanco; Jason Pridie; Daniel Rams; Renzo Reverol; Steve Singleton; Anthony Slama; Brad Stillings; Tobias Streich; Kyle Waldrop; Dakota Watts; Blayne Weller.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season. For additional information on our rankings methodology, see our recent Mailbag article here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

TEAM #8 – San Diego Padres

Tate leads an exceptionally deep Padre prospect list
Our 2010 Prospect eGuide is less than two weeks away. If you have enjoyed this series, then check out the details here: .

Led by the #3 overall pick in last June’s draft, Donovan Tate, the San Diego Padres check in at #8. Tate, along with their second pick Everett Williams, represent significant departure for the Padres, as previous Grady Fusion-led efforts have tended to result in low-ceiling players, predominantly collegians. 2009, however, saw the Padres take athletic, ‘toolsy’ prep players with three of their first four picks. This is an organization that isn’t tremendously strong at the top, but is one of the deeper organizations in baseball—primarily on the strength of what has become a significant effort in signing quality, second-tier Latin American talents. The quality of strikezone management skills that permeate the organization are among the best in baseball, and this is surely a product of their scouting/player development approach. If we are allowed one criticism, it is the passive approach to assigning their college draft picks, that has historically placed them at least one-half season, if not a full-season, behind where we would like them to play. Some of this has been due to a logjam at certain positions, especially third base, but this has not always been the case. Looking over the organization, the biggest weakness that jumps out is a significant dearth of premium arms. This obviously was part of the motivation behind the bevy of pitchers that the Padres received when they traded Jake Peavy. We expect that a move in the direction of bringing in talent from the Red Sox, more performance-oriented, approach to player scouting will significantly change the makeup of the prospects over the next couple of seasons. Still, there is some hope in San Diego, as the Padres have an interesting young nucleus at the Major League level. That, teamed with the overall organizational depth, provides reason for some optimism in a couple of seasons.

Grade A-

1) Donovan Tate, OF -

Tate represents an interesting example of how we differ from many sources, as if you compare him with the Diamondbacks’ Bobby Borchering, you have the ultimate athletic, toolsy, high-ceiling, talent in Tate, with a low-floor vs. a far less athletic, lower-ceiling, Borchering, that has far fewer questions regarding his ability to hit. The scouting community loves Tate, and the Padres selected him with the #3 overall pick. We however had Tate ranked #8 on draft-day and prefer Borchering—even though he may ultimately end up as only a first baseman. In fact, if you read our article on evaluating players with minimal professional experience (, Tate’s projected Washout rate is 45%, with only an 8.3 expected career WAR, while Borchering’s Washout rate is 30%, with an expected career WAR of 10.0. However, none of this diminishes Tate’s upside, which is that of a five-tool future superstar. Tate has tremendous strength that translates into potentially plus power. With plus speed and tremendous athleticism, he is a potential gold glove center fielder. The downside of this is that none of it will matter if he can’t make contact, and there are significant concerns in this regard. Our assessment of Tate’s chances weren’t aided by his relatively inauspicious beginning to his career that included not one, but two, surgeries that forced him to miss the instructionals. Hopefully he is healthy by the Spring, and is able to begin his career in the MWL.

2) Jaff Decker, LF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 79; First Base Rate 79; Discipline 41; Speed 52)

The anti-Tate, Jaff Decker has few tools, and plenty of skills. Built like John Kruk, Decker has done nothing but rake since the Padres drafted him in the sandwich round of the 2008 draft. He entered the draft as the most polished prep hitter, and hasn’t done anything to change that perspective, as he has above average power and plus contact skills. While he strikes out more than we would like (21% in 2009), he is a relatively patient hitter, controlling the strike zone well. His biggest negative is his lack of speed, which he minimizes by solid baserunning instincts, that may challenge him defensively as he matures. After destroying the AZL in his 2008 debut, Decker finished 2009 with the Top Performance Score in the MWL. He will play the entire 2010 season as a 20yo, starting it off in the CAL.

3) Simon Castro, RHP
(2009 – Dominance 71; Stamina 71; HRrate 48; Control 65)

We began taking notice of Castro, when he posted a Top 10 Performance score in the DSL in 2006. He followed that up with another Top 10 Performance in the NWL in 2008. But the rest of the world began to notice this season when he posted the #12 Performance Score in the MWL. A rather large kid at 6’5”, 210lbs, Castro throws all of his pitches with significant late movement. While it makes them tremendously potent, it also makes them a little more difficult to control. His most effective pitch is his low- to mid-90s fastball that has a significant downward plane upon its release. While his secondary offerings show potential—they remain unrefined. With the ceiling of a solid mid-rotation starter, and a floor of an extremely effective late inning guy, the Padres are justifiably excited about Castro. He will face a real test in 2010 in the CAL, where we will be looking for continued improvements with his secondary offerings.

4) James Darnell, 3B (2009 – Power 77; First Base Rate 75; Discipline 64; Speed 41)

Darnell was one of our choices for ‘best pick’ when the Padres tabbed him in the second round in 2008, and remains one of the more underrated prospects in the Minors. Darnell continued to rake in 2009, posting the #11 Performance score in MWL and then the #6 Performance Score in the CAL. His bat is his main tool, as he shows above average power and contact skills, and controls the strike zone well. Defense remains a bigger challenge for Darnell, as he is not exceptionally fleet of foot, doesn’t have tremendously soft-hands, and often has accuracy problems with his throws. It remains to be seen whether or not this will require a move off of third base, as there are plenty of options within the organization. Darnell has the ceiling of an above average offensive Major League third baseman. If he moves, it will diminish his value, but his bat should play at just about any position. Look for Darnell to begin 2010 in AA.

Grade B+

5) Drew Cumberland, SS (2009 – Power 43; First Base Rate 74; Discipline 76; Speed 79)

We likely have Cumberland rated higher than most anyone, but we are very comfortable listing him here, as players with plus offensive potential at premium defensive positions are rare, at the moment, around the Minors. Cumberland’s game starts with his bat, as while he will likely never develop more than line-drive type of power, he has plus contact skills and controls the strike zone as well as most anyone in the Minors. But neither of those is his top skill, as his combination of athleticism and speed out rank them. Additionally, Cumberland has an exceptional baseball IQ. The downside, other than lack of raw power, is that he is a sometimes erratic defender. While he has the quickness, and soft hands to stay at short, he has troubles with rushing his throws. There are some that believe this will eventually precipitate a move to either CF or 2B—both still premium positions. After finishing 2009 with the #7 Performance Score in the MWL, the 21yo Cumberland will take his game to the CAL to begin 2010. From this point forward, he could move rapidly.

6) Edison Rincon, 3B (2009 – Power 70; First Base Rate 73; Discipline 52; Speed 62)

Rincon posted a breakout 2009, finishing with the Top Performance Score in the NWL. With plus power potential, and a build to go along with it, Rincon is the second of what will be many Latin American prospects that dot this Padres’ list. In addition to his power, Rincon possesses above average contact skills and surprising strike zone management skills. He even shows average speed. The downside is where he will play. Not only do the Padres have a bevy of third base prospects, he doesn’t possess the hands or lateral movement that are required to hold down the position—making an OF corner his likely destination. Rincon is a high-upside prospect whose bat should play anywhere. He will get his first look at full-season ball in 2010.

7) Jonathan Galvez, MI (2009 – Power 77; First Base Rate 64; Discipline 59; Speed 66)

Galvez was the Padres top Latin American signing in 2007, agreeing to a $750,000 bonus. Signed as a shortstop, Galvez’s glove fits better at second base, as he is not tremendously consistent on the routine play and lacks true shortstop arm strength. But there are few questions with his bat, that gives him the ceiling of being an above average Major League middle infielder. At a wiry, 6’2”, 175lbs, Galvez shows above average offensive skills—across the board, that enabled him to post the #2 Performance Score in the AZL last season. Despite just turning 19yo, Galvez has a rather advanced offensive approach. While the Padres will evaluate him in the Spring before deciding on his assignment, it would not be a surprise to see him be skipped to full-season A-ball to start the season—likely after a stint in extended Spring Training.

Grade B

8) Logan Forsythe, 3B (2009 – Power 48; First Base Rate 80; Discipline 38; Speed 57)

There isn’t a lot not to like about Forsythe, whom the Padres selected in the sandwich round of the 2008 draft, as he is one of the Minor League’s best ‘on-base’ hitters, plays solid thirdbase defense and finished with the #7 Performance Score in the CAL in 2009. However, he is a great example of where the ‘art’ enters into prospect evaluation. The short compact-swing that he possesses, that allows those lofty on-base rates, isn’t likely to ever generate double digit home run power at the Major League level. This doesn’t project a high certainty factor as a third baseman. Our expectation is that Forsythe eventually moves across the diamond to second base. If he is able to handle the move defensively, he could become an average to above average offensive secondbaseman. We expect that Forsythe will return to AA to open up 2010, with a move to AAA by mid-season.

9) Adys Portillo, RHP (2009 – Dominance 29; Stamina 62; HRrate 49; Control 30)

The consensus top Latin American pitcher, not named Ynoa, to sign in 2008, Portillo had what must be considered, by many, a disappointing professional debut in 2009—leading the AZL in losses, while posting a 5.13 ERA. We will cut him some slack though, as the assignment was aggressive for a 17yo, and he still managed to nail down a Top 10 Performance Score. While we were disappointed by his control issues, and even somewhat surprised by his 7.5 batters per 9IP strikeout rates, his tremendous upside was evident. Portillo has a highly projectable frame, that is already allowing him to throw low-90s fastballs that could be mid-90s offerings by the time he matures. While his secondary offerings remain raw, they show Major League potential. Don’t be fooled by his 2009 numbers, as no pitcher in the organization has a higher ceiling. Our expectation is that Padres will hold him back in extended Spring Training in 2010, before sending him to the NWL.

10) Rymer Liriano, OF (2009 – Power 76; First Base Rate 74; Discipline 49; Speed 69)

The 5th Latin American prospect among the Top Ten, Liriano made as big of splash as any of them with his 2009 U.S. debut, that rated as the Top Performance Score in the AZL. A strong kid, with plus power potential, above average contact skills and solid speed, Liriano is a high-ceiling outfield prospect, who likely best profiles in RF. If there is a drawback, it is his strike zone management and pitch recognition skills, that remain very much a work-in-process. The Padres are likely going to keep Liriano in extended Spring Training before determining his assignment, likely sending the 19yo to Everett when the NWL season opens…but we think he may be capable of handling the MWL.

11) Everett Williams, CF -

Like Tate, Williams is a highly athletic, very toolsy, high-ceiling, project—with less tools, and more innate hitting ability. As we have pointed out many times though, until the tools translate into production, the track record isn’t that good for these type of players. While not quite as strong as Tate, Williams has the potential for above average power, above average contact skills, and above average speed. Defensively, he could be a plus centerfielder, but will compete with Tate for a few years to find a defensive position—if he has to move from CF, left is likely the only option. While scouts have less concerns about his eventually hitting than they do Tate, Williams can look lost at times against better breaking balls, and has difficulty with pitch recognition. Williams should make his pro debut in full-season A-ball in 2010.

12) Aaron Poreda, LHP (2009 – Dominance 68; Stamina 70; HRrate 50; Control 20)

They key player obtained from the White Sox in the Peavy deal, Poreda was the last in a long-line of low-ceiling college pitchers selected by the White Sox in the first round. While Poreda probably has the upside of a mid-rotation starter, with his mid-90s fastball and potentially plus slider, he is essentially a two-pitch pitcher that is most likely destined for a back of the bullpen role. A big note of concern however, was his abysmal command this past season. He will have no success unless he gets this figured out. Poreda appeared in 14 games in the Majors last season, so he will have a shot to win a bullpen role this spring. The guess here is that the Padres start him back in AAA—as part of the rotation.

Grade B-

13) Wynn Pelzer, RHP (2009 – Dominance 58; Stamina 72; HRrate 49; Control 46)

Still being developed as a starter, Pelzer is another college pitcher that possesses only two Major League caliber offerings—a mid-90s fastball and a potentially plus slider. He rode them to a Top 25 Performance Score in the CAL in 2009. His aggressive approach would suit him well as a future closer—the role he appears best suited for. On the downside, Pelzer can get into ‘ruts’ where he overthrows, and didn’t command his secondary offerings well in 2009. The Padres will advance him to AA, in the rotation, to open up 2010.

14) Keyvius Sampson, RHP –

Sampson was considered a potential second round pick, this past June, but the Padres were able to snare him in round four, signing him to second round money. A very raw talent with a live arm, that fires low- to mid-90s fastballs, possesses solid athleticism, shows the potential for three Major League pitches, and possesses reasonable command. There is a lot to like here, and Sampson should have been drafted earlier. Sampson has an outside shot at debuting at Fort Wayne in 2010—although a short season league is more probable.

15) Cedric Hunter, CF (2009 – Power 28; First Base Rate 39; Discipline 78; Speed 73)

Hunter has been considered a top prospect in the Padre organization since he was named the AZL MVP in his 2006 debut. Unfortunately, the outlook for him continues to dim with each passing season, as he shows virtually no power and limited on-base skills. Hunter does have exceptional strike zone management skills, and plus raw speed. Defensively, he has the range to stay in CF, but projects to be only an average defender. Hunter is likely to start 2010 in AAA, as a 22yo, so there is still time to develop, we just don’t see where there will be development that will change our perception.

16) Lance Zawadzki, MI (2009 – Power 68; First Base Rate 61; Discipline 49; Speed 71)

A 4th round pick out of NAIA Lee University in 2007, Zawadzki had put together two solid seasons before having somewhat of a breakout 2009. Zawadzki is a typical low-ceiling college player that had become so much of their pre-2009 drafts, that does little poorly, but nothing exceptionally well. He has been playing mostly shortstop, but likely profiles best as a second baseman, where he could become a starter for a second division team, but likely is more of a utility player, that could play three infield positions. With nearly 350 ABs at AA in 2009, we expect that he will open the 2010 season in AAA.

17) Vincent Belnome, 2B (2009 – Power 78; First Base Rate 77; Discipline 49; Speed 28)

Belnome was a 28th round draft pick, that we must admit, didn’t make our list of Top 300 draft picks on draft day. That didn’t stop him from making a phenomenal professional debut in the NWL, where he posted the League’s #6 Performance Score. A converted thirdbaseman, Belnome showed corner infield power, and above average contact skills. He hits to all fields, is selective in his approach, and didn’t miss a beat after a late season promotion to the MWL. On the downside, Belnome possesses little in the way of speed, and while he improved his range this summer, he lacks middle infield range. One of the more difficult rankings that we had all year, Belnome’s production portends success as he moves up the ladder. Where he will play defensively is a huge question, but his bat has shown to not be a limiting factor. The odds for a 28th round pick are long, but Belnome has an excellent work ethic and and a solid baseball IQ—so we won’t bet against him. Look for Belnome to return to Fort Wayne to begin 2010.

18) Cory Luebke, LHP (2009 – Dominance 57; Stamina 71; HRrate 49; Control 68)

Luebke is another example of where we tend to differ from conventional approaches, as Luebke posted a solid season in the CAL and TXL, and was a former sandwich round pick in 2007, which gives traditional prospect evaluation methods the liberty to suddenly elevate him to prime prospect status. But Luebke turns 25yo before the season starts and has yet to pitch above AA. The track record for players with that profile is not good. Luebke has some raw stuff. With a low 90s fastball, and an at least average slider, he can make a contribution at the Major League level, but his upside is that of a back of the rotation starter—or more likely that of a middle reliever. Luebke will start 2010 in AAA.

19) Kellen Kulbacki, RF (2009 – Power 26; First Base Rate 27; Discipline 57; Speed 39)

Kulbacki finished his junior year with the #4 Performance Score in all of the NCAA. The Padres were sold on his stick and drafted him in the second round. In 2008 the Padres sent him to the CAL, where he posted the #10 Performance Score. He was poised to take a major step forward entering the 2009 season when disaster struck. First he injured his shoulder, significantly impacting his power. Then, with only 134 ABs under his belt, he tore his hamstring, ending his season before the all-star break. When he is healthy, Kulbacki can flat out rake, showing above average power and contact skills and excellent plate discipline. Speed, nor defense, have ever been his calling card, but his bat could play at any position. His biggest downside is that time is running out. We have written many times about the poor track record of position players that don’t make their Major League debut before their 25th birthday. Kulbacki will open the season as a 24yo in AA. It’s now or never.

Grade C+ Prospects –

20) Dusty Ryan, C; 21) Juan Ormas, LHP; 22) Jeremy McBryde, RHP; 23) Jerry Sullivan, RHP; 24) Yefri Carvajal, RF; 25) Sawyer Carroll, RF; 26) Luis Durango, LF; 27) Chad Huffman, LF; 28) Allan Dykstra, 1B; 29) Blake Tekotte, CF; 30) Dexter Carter, RHP; 31) Jorge Reyes, RHP; 32) Beamer Weems, SS.

Grade C Prospects –

Dean Anna; Matt Antonelli; Alvaro Aristy; Anthony Bass; Mike Baxter; Jacob Beltre; Brad Brach; Aaron Breit; Mitch Canham; Cesar Carrillo; Brad Chalk; Matt Clark; Bo Davis; Cody Decker; Luis Domoromo; Chris Fetter; Cole Figueroa; Nathan Freiman; Ernesto Frieri; Brandon Gomes; Nick Greenwood; Jason Hagerty; Jeremy Hefner; Will Inman; Craig Italiano; Corey Kluber; Matt Lollis; Yair Lopez; Jorge Minyeti; James Needy; Emmanuel Quiles; Cesar Ramos; Nick Schmidt; Evan Scribner; Adan Velazquez; Michael Watt; Chris Wilkes.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season. For additional information on our rankings methodology, see our recent Mailbag article here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

TEAM #9 – San Francisco Giants

How long will Giant fans watch Molina and wait for Posey?

Going across the Bay, we find the San Francisco Giants checking in at #9. The Giants are led by the top duo that we have ranked thus far, and solid depth throughout the upper prospect tiers. Two things hold them back from ranking higher though…the first is that they don’t have the top to bottom depth of some of the strongest organizations…and the second is the legal troubles of Angel Villalona. Villalona would have likely rated as a Top 100 prospect, if it weren’t for the questions surrounding his ability to resume his professional career in the United States. After researching the situation carefully, we feel that we have discounted, appropriately, his certainty factor, and he now comes in as the Giants’ #25 prospect. While the Giants do have two premium arms in Bumgarner and Wheeler, the trades of Alderson and Barnes have left them a bit thin in that area, as many of the remaining arms with upside are relief pitchers. While they likely have more low-ceiling types than high-ceiling types, the organization has a mix of both, and a good mix between players that are nearly ready to contribute and players that are a ways away. One final note of importance…after a few years of making substantial investment and seemingly beginning to reap some of the rewards, the Giants were a virtually absent player among the top Latin American free agents this season. Having had the Duanel Jones deal voided, we are unaware of any signing for more than a low six figure bonus. We will have to wait and see if this is indication of philosophy shift or a one year aberration.

Grade A

1) Buster Posey, C (2009 Performance Scores – Power 70; First Base Rate 75; Discipline 64; Speed 44)

Since hindsight is 20/20, one has to seriously wonder if the Tampa Bay Rays had to do it all over again, that Buster Posey wouldn’t have been the top pick in the 2008 draft. Instead the Rays went with Beckham, and Posey fell to the Giants at #5. Since signing, Posey has been everything that was advertised, namely the surest bet of producing a solid Major League career that the 2008 draft class had to offer. Now the Giant fans are eagerly awaiting his fulfillment of that promise, while Giant management resigns the very mediocre Bengie Molina to another year of the same old thing. Pablo Sandoval needs some offensive help, and Molina isn’t likely to provide it. Posey shows advanced patience at the plate, and he uses it as well as anyone in the minors to just take what the pitcher gives him. He doesn’t possess tremendous raw power, yet still belted 18 home runs. His contact skills rate a plus—strong enough to envision runs at batting titles. Even his speed, his weakest offensive skill, rates above average for the position. Remarkably though, his offense isn’t his best attribute, as Posey is extraordinarily advanced at the aspect of game/pitcher management. An excellent athlete, Posey has a strong arm, that allowed him to nail 46% of the runners who attempted to run on him. If there is a downside, it is that he converted to shortstop in college, and he is still somewhat raw in the blocking/catching aspects of the position. With Molina in the fold, Posey will head back to AAA where he can get full-time at bats and work on his receiving skills. He has all-star potential at the position, and the Giant fans are likely to get considerably restless if Posey isn’t the starting catcher by mid-season.

2) Madison Bumgarner, LHP (2009 – Dominance 48; Stamina 68; HRrate 49; Control 71)

In a draft that contained Rick Porcello and Jarrod Parker, it was widely believed that Bumgarner was the best pure prep arm available in 2007. After some minor adjustments early in the 2008 season, Bumgarner was nearly unhittable, as he flashed a fastball that consistently sat in the mid-90s. Coming into 2009, the task was to work on his control, especially with his secondary offerings. He accomplished the task so well that he blew through the California (CAL) League, before holding the ESL at bay, en route to a brief stint in the Majors. When he is on, he commands three pitches that includes a slider and a change, in addition to the heater. While he posted the #5 Performance score in the ESL, it didn’t come without concern—starting with the fact that his fastball was barely a 90Mph offering for much of the second-half. Add to that, the fact that Bumgarner was drafted with the reputation of being much more thrower than pitcher, and while he earns praise for his attacking style, it often leads to over-reliance on the fastball—leaving him with under developed secondary offerings--something that will not work in the Big Leagues. At only 20yo, and with Major League experience under his belt, his certainty factor is quite high. But if Bumgarner is going to reach his ceiling of a true rotation ace, he is going to have to refine the secondary offerings. He should get an opportunity to work on this at AAA to begin 2010, and should join the rotation in San Francisco sometime in the season’s second half.

Grade A -

3) Zack Wheeler, RHP -

It was not a shock to us that the Giants took Wheeler at #6, last June, nor was it tremendously surprising that he was the second prep pitcher selected. What was a surprise was that Matt Hobgood was the pitcher that went before him. While we were very comfortable with our draft day ranking that had Wheeler as the fourth best prep pitcher, behind Matzek, Turner and Shelby Miller, we cautioned that Wheeler would be considered a top 5 draft talent in many, less deep drafts, and we clearly expected him to be gone in the upper half of the first round. As it was, the Giants fell in love with Wheeler, and never really questioned who they would take. Wheeler is a highly projectable right-hander, with a low-90s fastball, a plus Curve, and a potentially plus Change. Despite his considerable remaining projection, Wheeler is already fairly polished, and probably rates only behind Matzek in that area from the 2009 draft class. On the downside, Wheeler struggles at times with command, and, in what was our biggest concern, we weren’t tremendously impressed with his overall pitchability. Wheeler’s ceiling is huge, as he profiles as a Major League #1/#2. Giant fans are quick to point out that he is a more advanced prospect than Bumgarner was at this stage of his career. Because of that Wheeler will likely debut in the SAL this spring.

4) Thomas Neal, OF (2009 – Power 77; First Base Rate 73; Discipline 59; Speed 48)

After serving as Angel Villalona’s caddy in the SAL in 2008, while he recovered from shoulder surgery, Neal broke out in a big way in 2009—posting the #4 Performance Score in the CAL. Neal is a stockily built outfielder with below average speed. While his arm is playable in right, he profiles better as a LF/1B type. Offensively, there are little concerns about his bat, as he has above average power skills, solid contact skills and reasonable plate discipline. His real value is primarily tied to his ability to stay in the OF, as he has the upside of a Major League average starting OF corner. Neal will open 2010 in AA, likely competing with Roger Kieschnick head-to-head over the next couple of seasons.

Grade B+

5) Rafael Rodriguez, RF (2009 – Power 39; First Base Rate 75; Discipline 70; Speed 39)

One of the Top International signings in 2008, Rodriguez made his debut this past season in the AZL. Rodriguez is very muscular for a 17yo, and showed a surprisingly advanced plate approach for a young Latin American signee. While he had only 8 XBH in 127 ABs, he projects to eventually have above average power. Not a speedster, but there is little concern for his long-term ability to remain in RF. There is enormous upside with Rodriguez, and right now he just needs experience. He showed begin 2010 in extended Spring Training, before likely joining the NWL when it opens its season.

6) Roger Kieschnick, OF (2009 – Power 75; First Base Rate 37; Discipline 43; Speed 73)

A rare blend of enormous power potential, speed, athleticism and a ‘no-holds-barred’ aggressiveness, Kieschnick made his debut, this season, in the CAL, after the Giants tabbed him in the third round in 2008. There he slugged his way to a Top 20 Performance Score. We normally would be more concerned about a 23.5% strikeout rate, but Kieschnick possesses a significant baseball IQ that should allow him to make the proper adjustments as he continues up the ladder—and this was his first taste of proball. The 23yo will open the season at AA, the ceiling of a power hitting Major League right fielder. Already a reasonably polished prospect, the expectations are that he will find his way to San Francisco in early 2011.

Grade B

7) Tommy Joseph, C -

We had Joseph rated as a second round pick entering draft day, which is right where the Giants selected him. We had a chance to see Mike Napoli play as a 19yo in the MWL, and Joseph draws immediate comparisons as a big, thick, hitting machine, that lacks mobility behind the plate. In a draft that was deep in backstops, Joseph could possibly possess the most offensive upside of any of them—however, when comparing him to Max Stassi, Luke Bailey and Wil Myers, Joseph has the least likelihood of remaining behind the plate. If he is forced into another position, first base is really his only other option—significantly diminishing his value. With an advanced bat, we expect that Joseph will open 2010 in full-season A-ball.

8) Dan Runzler, RP (2009 – Dominance 73; Stamina 28; HRrate 53; Control 36)

Runzler had a Dan Hudson-esque type season in 2009, as he began the year in full-season A-ball, finished it in San Francisco, and hit every rung on the ladder along the way. Essentially a two-pitch pitcher, Runzler compliments his mid-90s fastball with a potentially plus curve. If there is a knock, it’s that he does experience bouts of command issues—especially with the curve. We aren’t typically fond of Minor League relief pitchers, but Runzler has closer stuff and has the likelihood of making the Giants out of Spring training—making his certainty quotient rather high.

9) Nick Noonan, 2B (2009 – Power 43; First Base Rate 53; Discipline 57; Speed 57)

A sandwich round pick in 2007, Noonan isn’t flashy, and doesn’t have a huge ceiling, but the 20yo is one of the most consistent players in the Minors, with a significantly high prospect floor. With solid average skills across the board and a high baseball IQ, he posted the #11 Performance Score in the CAL in 2009. Defensively, all that he does is make plays. We don’t expect that Noonan will make many all-star games, but we do expect that he will have a long career as a solid, every, day Major League secondbaseman. Noonan will begin 2010 in AA, and is likely to find his way to San Francisco sometime in 2011.

10) Ehire Adrianza, SS (2009 – Power 33; First Base Rate 68; Discipline 70; Speed 60)

One of the Minor League’s best shortstop gloves, Adrianza will make it or break it on the basis of whether he is able to show enough offense to hold an everyday Major League job. With excellent lateral movement, soft hands, and a solid arm, Adrianza has the potential to compete for Gold Gloves if he can make it that far. At 6’1, 155lbs, there is hope that he will add more muscle, and hence more power, as he has hit only 3 home runs in over 800 professional ABs. On the positive side, Adrianza is a switch hitter who makes solid contact from both sides, and he possesses plus strike zone management skills. Adrianza will play the 2010 season as a 20yo, likely debuting in the CAL. Hopefully the Giants will be patient enough to allow his bat to catch up to his advanced glove.

11) Conor Gillaspie, 3B (2009 – Power 37; First Base Rate 72; Discipline 74; Speed 33)

Gillaspie was the first player from the 2008 draft to play in the Majors, but still isn’t a lock to ever stay there. With plus contact skills and excellent strike zone management skills, the bat is a capable weapon for him—just not as an infield corner, as he has just four home runs in over 600 professional PAs. Unfortunately, he lacks the quickness, to suggest success with a move across the diamond to secondbase. While Gillaspie doesn’t possess a significant ceiling, he does have intriguing skills. He’ll begin 2010 in AA, as the Giants try to figure out a way to make use of them.

Grade B-

12) Francisco Peguero, CF (2009 – Power 37; First Base Rate 61; Discipline 71; Speed 69)

I’m not sure what it says about your prospect status when the first thing your organization refers to when speaking about you is your energy, but that is the case for Peguero, who the Giants love, and we remain a bit lukewarm. Peguero is a ‘toolsy’ guy with above average speed and a strong arm. While he is aggressive in his approach at the plate, he doesn’t strike out much, and makes reasonable contact. However, Peguero possesses only minimal power, so he will have to improve upon his patience, with only a slightly better than 4% walk rate over the last two seasons, in order to become a top of the order offensive threat. In 2010, the 21yo will begin the year in the CAL.

13) Jason Stoeffel, RP –

Stoeffel entered the 2009 college season as the top closer prospect in the draft. An inconsistent spring season allowed him to slide all the way down to round four. There is upside here, with a mid-90s fastball and a potentially plus slider, and Stoffel was lights out in his 17 appearance debut, but it is strictly in a bull pen role. He is a substantially polished pitcher at this point, and while he will likely begin the 2010 in Hi-A, he could move rapidly—potentially even seeing San Francisco before seasons end.

14) Chris Dominguez, 3B (2009 – Power 75; First Base Rate 27; Discipline 27; Speed 77)

We had Dominguez as a late second round talent, so the Giants had to feel good about getting him with their third round pick last June. Plus power is his primary skill, but he does possess surprising speed, given his build, and an excellent arm. Unfortunately, he lacks the lateral range you would like at third base, as well as, soft hands, making it possible that he won’t stay at the position. Additionally, poor contact skills and a 29% strikeout rate, raise concerns about his ability to succeed at higher levels. Dominguez has the ceiling of a slugging Major League third baseman. Unfortunately, the 23yo is likely to open the season at Hi-A, and will have to move rapidly.

15) Jorge Bucardo, RHP (2009 – Dominance 45; Stamina 77; HRrate 49; Control 66)

After posting the #5 Performance Score in the AZL in his 2008 US debut, Bucardo followed that up with the #4 Performance score in the NWL this past summer. While Bucardo possesses a 90mph fastball, it his plus slider that is his out pitch. Because he doesn’t have an overwhelming heater, he doesn’t receive a lot of ‘scout-love’, but we are enamored with his command, and available projection. 2010 will find him in full-season ball for the first time, and improvements with his change and some added muscle could see him breakout.

16) Eric Surkamp, LHP (2009 – Dominance 77; Stamina 73; HRrate 49; Control 55)

Surkamp was the Giants sixth round pick in 2008, who still has some projection left in him, despite coming from the college ranks. With a low 90s fastball and developing secondary offerings, Surkamp posted the #16 Performance Score in the SAL in 2009. While not possessing a significantly high ceiling, he could develop into a mid-rotation starter with secondary offering improvements. The 22yo will take his game to the CAL in 2010, in what is likely to be a critical season.

17) Brandon Crawford, SS (2009 – Power 59; First Base Rate 67; Discipline 31; Speed 48)

2009 was a tale of two seasons for Crawford, as he posted a Top 25 Performance Score in the CAL, but was clearly over-matched by the more advanced pitching in the ESL after his promotion. The Giants love both his defense and makeup, and are clearly targeting him for the shortstop job in 2011. We aren’t so sure, as we don’t believe in his bat, as a 25% strikeout from a middle infielder without significant power doesn’t portend Major League success. At 23yo, Crawford should be returning to AA, where we still want to see more.

Grade C+ Prospects –

18) Ryan Cavan, SS; 19) Jesus Guzman, 1B; 20) Clayton Tanner, LHP; 21) Matt Downs, 2B; 22) Darren Ford, CF; 23) Brett Pill, 1B; 24) Jose Casilla, RP; 25) Angel Villalona, 1B; 26) Mike McBryde, CF; 27) Kevin Pucetas, RHP; 28) Kendry Flores, RHP; 29) Waldis Joaquin, RP; 30) Aaron King, LHP; 31) Henry Sosa, RHP; 32) Drew Biery, 3B; 33) Steve Johnson, RHP; 34) Charlie Culberson, 3B; 35) Brandon Belt, 1B; 36) Matt Graham, RHP; 37) Ydwin Villegas, SS; 38) Julio Izturis, 2B.

Grade C Prospects –

Brock Bond; Edward Concepcion; Clark Craig; Rey Duran; Steve Edlefsen; Leonardo Fuentes; Alex Hinshaw; Joe Martinez; Kyle Nicholson; Dan Otero; Joe Paterson; Edwin Quirarte; Ryan Rohlinger; Ariel Ronick; Hector Sanchez; Sharlon Schoop; Ben Snyder; Craig Westcott; Jackson Williams.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season. For additional information on our rankings methodology, see our recent Mailbag article here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions.

Don’t forget to order your copy of the Diamond Futures’ 2010 Prospect eGuide. Over 300 pages delivered directly to your ‘InBox’ on February 8th. Available at the pre-order price of only $6.95.

Monday, January 25, 2010

TEAM #10 – Oakland Athletics

Expect Green to silence his detractors this season

Starting off the Top 10, at #10, we have the Oakland Athletics. The A’s are led by three solid position prospects that should make significant impacts at the Big League level in the very near future. These three are followed by two high-ceiling youngsters that are quite a ways away. Unfortunately, things thin out rapidly after that, and the A’s weren’t helped any by the recent retirement of Grant Desme. In fact, the loss of Desme will probably drop the A’s out of the Top 10 when the eGuide rankings come out, as he was in the mix at #4, and teams #9 - #14 are bunched rather tightly. While the remainder of the list is extremely deep, and the Athletics’ Latin American effort is one of the more improving in the minors, there aren’t a lot of high upside players on it—seemingly a product of Billy Beane’s college-focused draft strategy. Additionally, with the 2009 graduation of Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Vin Mazzaro, the pitching ranks have thinned out considerably, with only three of their top twelve prospects being pitchers. While the system remains solid, it is beginning to show signs of returning to its pre-2009 level.

Grade A

1) Grant Green, SS -

Green’s situation is an excellent example of ‘human’ interference in the ranking process. Perceptions and subjective judgment often find their way as an obstacle to objective fact. After a sophomore season where Green posted an 1.080 OPS, he went to the Cape that summer and had a huge summer season that had people making Tulowitzki and Longoria comparisons and sending expectations through the roof. His junior year couldn’t possibly live up to the unrealistic ‘hype’, and he opened the season with hand and ankle injuries—getting off to a horrible start. Despite the fact that he posted a greater than 1.060 OPS from the beginning of Pac-10 conference play forward, his stock went into freefall as the draft approached, and the ‘overrated’ label was attached. We still had him #4 on our board, and believe that the A’s got a bargain when he was there at #13, as college middle infielders with his skill set are rare. The biggest question on Green is whether or not he will stay at shortstop. The A’s are going to give him a shot, and after years of mediocre shortstop play from Bobby Crosby, there is every reason to believe that Green will play the position far higher than that level, as he possesses soft hands and a strong arm. While Green will not hit for tremendous power, or play with tremendous speed, both skills project to be at least average or better for the position. In addition to his high baseball IQ/excellent makeup, his one plus skill looks to be his on-base skills, as he projects to be a solid .285/.365/.435 type. That makes him an above average, everyday, Major League middle infielder, with perhaps some all-star appearances sprinkled in. The most desirable quality is that his floor appears to be extremely high. Look for Green to begin 2010 in the California (CAL) League, where the polished product could move rapidly, making his Major League debut in early 2011.

2) Chris Carter, 1B (2009 Performance Scores – Power 79; First Base Rate 72; Discipline 29; Speed 66)

Carter posted a monster 2009 season in the TXL, finishing the year with the League’s top Performance Score. Possessing a truly potent bat, he belted 28 home runs between two stops. He not only possesses plus-plus power potential, but he adds above average contact skills and even coaxed 85 walks. The downside is that every swing from Carter is hard, and his aggressive approach leads him susceptible to advanced breaking balls and leaves him with a strikeout rate north of 21%. An additional point of concern is that in 120 ABs against better pitching in the PCL and this winter in Mexico, the 23yo’s OPS fell to .787, while he saw his strikeout rate soar to 31%. Defensively, while Carter shows some natural athleticism and a solid arm, he appears to be limited to first base or left field--where he is likely no better than adequate. With an upside of a power hitting Major League corner, who is already close to Major League ready, the value here is considerable. He should begin 2010 in the PCL, where the rate of improvement in his strike zone management skills, and space on the Big League roster will dictate his advancement.

3) Michael Taylor, LF (2009 – Power 75; First Base Rate 62; Discipline 62; Speed 69)

Acquired from the Phillies via the Blue Jays in an even up swap for Brett Wallace, Taylor provides some relief from the building logjam of first base/designated hitter types in the Oakland organization. A behemoth of a left-fielder at 6’6” and 250lbs, Taylor possesses above average power potential, and contact skills, combined with average strike zone management and speed. His 2009 season was likely his most productive as a professional, posting the #5 and #7 Performance Scores in the ESL and INT respectively. With few weaknesses, outside of some additional untapped power potential, he is a high floor player, who should become no less than a Major League average, everyday, left fielder—possibly more. At 24yo, the A’s will give Taylor a chance to compete for a Big League job this spring. Even if he returns to AAA, he should see considerable time in Oakland during the 2010 season.

Grade A-
4) Michael Ynoa, RHP –

Ynoa was the highest profile Latin American pitcher signing, of all-time, when the A’s inked him to a $4.25MM deal in 2008. Unfortunately, a combination of tax planning issues, VISA delays, knee-problems, and a cautious approach to elbow tenderness, has slowed his development at this stage, virtually costing him the entire 2009 season. At only 18yo, this isn’t likely to be a significant long-term setback, but it has to make management a bit queasy about their substantial investment. Before people start jumping off of the Ynoa bandwagon though, let me remind everyone of the extraordinary upside talent here. At 6’7”, 205lbs, there is considerable projection left in Ynoa, who already sports a low-90s fastball, and a four-pitch repertoire that also contains a potentially plus curve. Add to that precocious pitchability, sound mechanics and above average command, and it is no wonder why he was universally pursued as a 16yo. The reports coming out of Oakland are that he was able to get back on the mound this fall, showing the type of stuff that they thought they were getting. The downside is that he has yet to throw a professional pitch, or face professional hitters, so everything in this ranking is based on his potential. This is an 18yo player with the upside of a front of the rotation stud. While it is one of the more problematic rankings, we have tried to compare/place him with the 2009 prep draft class, which would have likely made him a first round talent. Look for him to debut this summer in one of the short-season leagues.

Grade B+

5) Max Stassi, C –

We had Stassi rated as the #2 prep catcher for most of the season, in one of the strongest years for prep catchers in recent memory, until Luke Bailey went down with Tommy John surgery, boosting Stassi to #1. This left him with an end of the first round rating entering draft day. Signability concerns allowed the A’s to tab him in the 4th round, where the signed him to first round money with a record bonus ($1.25MM) for a fourth rounder. While Stassi is potentially a plus defender at backstop, he scores highest with an advanced feel for hitting. His contact skills grade highest, but he has potentially above average power for a catcher and good plate discipline skills. His only below average skill is speed, where he is likely below average—even for a backstop. Stassi’s upside is that of an above average Major League catcher, but as regular readers will surely note, prep catchers don’t exactly have a strong record of historical success. With 50+ ABs in the NWL, and a relatively polished skill set, look for Stassi to open 2010 at Kane County.

Grade B

6) Adrian Cardenas, 2B (2009 – Power 41; First Base Rate 51; Discipline 66; Speed 41)

Admittedly, we have never been as high on Cardenas as some, as we just don’t see a very high ceiling here. That being said, between Weeks and Cardenas—who we have neck-and-neck as prospects, the A’s are likely to get at least one average, everyday, Major League secondbaseman, which is a good position to be in from an organization standpoint. With Cardenas being a few months younger, and playing slightly ahead, he gets the nod over Weeks. Cardenas scores highest on his baseball IQ, always giving one the impression that he is focused on the situation at hand. With good plate discipline skills and a solid knack for putting the ball in play, he has the potential to be an above average offensive middle infielder. Defense is a little more dicey though, as Cardenas lacks the quickness for shortstop and the power to play regularly at 3B, leaving 2B as the default option. This also provides Cardenas will a high-floor, as he looks certain to find himself in the Big Leagues at some point—no worse than a solid utility infielder. Look for Cardenas to begin 2010 in AAA as 22yo, with probability of seeing some time in Oakland at some point during the season.

7) Jemile Weeks, 2B (2009 – Power 51; First Base Rate 54; Discipline 63; Speed 65)

Only a notch below, Weeks possesses more tools than Cardenas, but lacks the overall consistency to his game. His upside is probably slightly higher than Cardenas, but he doesn’t score quite as high on the certainty scale, due to the lack of position flexibility. Possessing at least average skills across the board, Weeks’ biggest negative has been his inability to stay healthy for an entire season. With above average speed, when healthy, good plate discipline and solid contact skills, Weeks profiles as a potential top of the order offensive threat. But he is already 23yo, and he remains at least a full season away from a Big League opportunity. Look for Weeks to open up 2010 back in AA, and his advancement is likely tied to a Cardenas promotion.

8) Henry Rodriguez, RP (2009 – Dominance 80; Stamina 26; HRrate 48; Control 20)

Finally in the bullpen full-time in 2009, Rodriguez got to show off his high-90s fastball more frequently—fanning more than 15 batters per 9IP. Unfortunately, Rodriguez still has too many episodes of not knowing where it will end up, and he gave up free passes at a rate of more than 7 per 9IP. The other downside to Rodriguez is this is a pitcher with virtually no passable secondary offerings, even though he is already regularly facing AAA hitters. In an organization with few high ceiling players, Rodriguez has the potential to be a late-inning hammer. His success will rest with his ability to consistently find the plate. Look for Rodriguez to compete for a spot in the Oakland pen this spring, though he likely returns to AAA for some additional seasoning.

9) Sean Doolittle, RF/1B (2009 – Power 63; First Base Rate 64; Discipline 41; Speed 31)

When the A’s drafted Doolittle in the sandwich round of the 2007 draft, there were some teams who favored him more for his ability on the mound, than with the bat. The fear was that he was a patient hitter with too little power to play first base. So Doolittle has made increasing his power a priority, and looked poised to have a big year in 2009, but knee problems ended his season in May. A move to RF in 2009, was made to speed his opportunities for advancement. It remains to be seen how the knee surgery will ultimately affect his ability to remain there, though as a former hurler, he has a plus arm. He still has a patient approach at the plate, and could develop average power for a RF. Doolittle is another player in the system without a tremendously high ceiling. In right field, he could be an average Major League regular. If, however, he has to move back to first base, he looks a lot more like a platoon type, than an everyday player. Look for him to begin his 2010 season once he proves healthy—likely in AAA. A shot with Oakland at some point during the season seems feasible.

10) Fautino De Los Santos, RHP -

De Los Santos spent the majority of 2009 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He did get back on the field for seven brief outings in the AZL before the season was finished and showed that his stuff was coming along. Now, over the last two seasons, he has pitched a total 34 innings. When healthy, De Los Santos features a four pitch repertoire—headed by a mid-90s fastball. His mechanics were questionable prior to the surgery, so it will be interesting to see how long it takes for him to regain his command. There is significantly upside here, but now after missing virtually two seasons, the certainty factor has taken a hit. Providing all systems are a go this spring, look for De Los Santos to open the year in AA.

11) Corey Brown, OF (2009 – Power 74; First Base Rate 28; Discipline 23; Speed 50)

One of the more enigmatic players in the Minors, Brown is capable of handling CF on an everyday basis, but is also capable of plus-plus power skills. The downside is that he is a tremendous ‘hacker’, swinging hard at everything and chasing balls all over the batter’s box. This has led to 45 homeruns and 266 strikeouts over his last 851 ABs. Brown’s raw power provides him with an upside that is higher than many in the organization. However, he is a 24yo, that will be starting 2010 in AAA, with underdeveloped contact skills, and poor strike zone management. Time is running out for Brown to ‘get it’, and 2010 will be a pivotal year.

12) Josh Donaldson, C (2009 – Power 59; First Base Rate 63; Discipline 43; Speed 57)

Donaldson converted to Catcher before his junior season at Auburn, which made him coveted as a offense-first catcher, landing him in the sandwich round with the Cubs in 2007. He debuted by absolutely destroying the NWL after signing. Given a first taste of full season ball in 2008, Donaldson was absolutely abysmal offensively, prompting the Cubs to throw him into the Rich Harden deal. The change of scenery did wonders, as Donaldson feasted on CAL pitching after the deal. 2009 was set up for him to establish himself as the A’s catcher of the future. But his bat slumped once again, as he didn’t even finish with a Top 25 Performance score in the TXL. While Donaldson still has work to do on the defensive side, there is every reason to believe his defense can be average. If he puts it all together, he is a highly athletic backstop, with at least average power, solid contact skills, and average speed. While he shows significant patience at the plate, when he is struggling he has a tendency to chase bad pitches. Like Brown above, Donaldson should begin 2010 at AAA, as a 24yo, in a very critical year.

Grade B-

13) Ian Krol, LHP -

Krol is a pitcher that we saw a number of times his junior year in high school. Unfortunately, an alcohol discipline program at his high school, with very limited tolerance, kept him off the field for his senior season. He was forced to travel around the upper Midwest over the spring/summer to participate in wood bat league games, in an effort to show scouts his wares. In the end, the wrap of being a discipline problem had him slide all the way to the 7th round, where the A’s signed him for sandwich round money. This is a situation that we are more familiar with than many, and we can say with confidence that his offense was not tremendously out of the norm for player his age, and while not a positive, it shouldn’t have any lingering impacts. Which brings us to his pitching. Krol has three potential Major League pitches, of which his 90mph fastball is his weakest. His best pitch is his potentially plus curve, and he also has an above average change. Rather small and slight, there isn’t a lot of projection here, which limits his ceiling to that of likely a #4. We expect that he will start 2010 in extended Spring Training where the effects of his missed season will be evaluated. If he debuts in Kane County, he will be pitching, virtually, in his backyard.

14) Tyson Ross, RHP (2009 – Dominance 49; Stamina 67; HRrate 47; Control 49)

With three above average offerings, including a low- to mid-90s fastball, the big knock on Ross, in our minds, is why isn’t he missing more bats? The 22yo is a big, 6’5”, 215lbs, athletic pitcher, that has the ceiling of a mid-rotation starter. But aside from occasional bouts with control, we can’t find any reason that he isn’t fanning more than the 7 batters per 9IP that he has thus far in his career. It is this number that holds down his long-term projections. Look for Ross to open up 2010 with a return trip to AA. He has had some issues staying healthy, and we would not be surprised to eventually find him in a bullpen role.

15) Shane Peterson, OF (2009 – Power 52; First Base Rate 51; Discipline 56; Speed 67)

We have habitually been more fond of Peterson than have the scouts, as he possesses unconventional swing mechanics and a relative dearth of power for a corner outfielder. But Peterson can play all three positions in the outfield, can play first base, and doesn’t have a below average skill—excepting for potentially power. In four stops thus far he has amassed a .367 OBP, and posted a top 15 score in the TXL in 2009. While Peterson doesn’t possess an extraordinary upside, his floor is fairly solid as a Major League reserve—or even a starter for a second division squad. Look for Peterson to open up 2010 in AAA, and have a shot to contribute in Oakland before the season is over.

16) James Simmons, RHP (2009 – Dominance 36; Stamina 68; HRrate 48; Control 47)

Simmons has been moving in reverse since being drafted in the first round in 2007. Another of the low-ceiling college players that permeate the Oakland organization, Simmons relies on a low-90s fastball and a potentially plus change. While his slider has potential, its lack of development is the biggest reason for concern, as without it he is likely bullpen material. While 2009 saw Simmons with uncharacteristic bouts of control issues, he still posted a Top 25 Performance Score in the PCL. Simmons could become a solid back of the rotation pitcher, but in order to accomplish that he will have to miss more bats, and tighten up his secondary stuff. While Simmons will have an opportunity to earn a spot with the Big League club in the spring, the expectation is that there is too much young talent that he is competing with in Oakland and he will likely spend most of 2010 in AAA.

17) Clay Mortensen, RHP (2009 – Dominance 44; Stamina 74; HRrate 48; Control 55)

Like Peterson above, Mortensen is another of those low-ceiling, high-floor college players, and like Peterson, Mortensen was acquired by the A’s from the Cardinals in the deal that sent Matt Holliday to the Redbirds. Mortensen’s bread and butter is his sinker that keeps the ball on the ground. He really doesn’t have more to his offerings other than a hard slider. Without a quality offspeed offering, it is difficult to imagine him having tremendous success above the back end of the rotation. Most likely, he will earn his check pitching out of the bullpen. Mortensen will be given the opportunity to earn a roster spot this Spring, but is most likely headed back to AAA to await his opportunity.

18) Ben Hornbeck, LHP (2009 – Dominance 79; Stamina 61; HRrate 49; Control 51)

Due to the fact that his fastball is only a high-80s offering, Hornbeck will never get much love from the scouting community. Still that didn’t prevent the 22yo, from posting the #4 Performance Score in the CAL. Hornbeck sets up his fastball with a plus change and a solid slider. At a slight 6’5”, 180lbs, there is reason to believe he could still add a tick or so to his fastball, making him a projectable Major League starter. Being left-handed doesn’t hurt either. Look for Hornbeck to open 2010 in AA. He will have to prove himself every step along the way, but his 2009 Performance has earned our attention.

Grade C+ Prospects –

19) Pedro Figueroa, LHP; 20) Arnold Leon, RP; 21) Eric Sogard, 2B; 22) Nino Leyja, 2B; 23) Anthony Capra, LHP; 24) Justin Marks, LHP; 25) Matt Sulentic, OF; 26) Mickey Storey, RP; 27) Wilfredo Solano, 3B; 28) Reynaldo Mateo, C; 29) Cliff Pennington, SS; 30) Sam Demel, RP; 31) Jason Christian, 3B; 32) Connor Crumbliss, 2B; 33) Rasun Dixon, LF.

Grade C Prospects –

Travis Banwart; Jeremy Barfield; Andrew Carignan; Bobby Cassevah; Dusty Coleman; Jose Crisotomo; Omar Duran; Rob Gilliam; Graham Godfrey; Carlos Hernandez; Connor Hoehn; Josh Horton; Brett Hunter; Brad Kilby; Tyler Ladendorf; Jared Lansford; Josh Leyland; Junior Martinez; Jon Meloan; Ryan Ortiz; Steve Parker; Anvioris Ramirez; Julio Ramos; Kenny Smalley; Paul Smyth; Alfredo Sosa; Justin Souza; Mike Spina; Daniel Straily; Corey Wimberly.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season. For additional information on our rankings methodology, see our recent Mailbag article here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions.

Don’t forget to order your copy of the Diamond Futures’ 2010 Prospect eGuide. Over 300 pages delivered directly to your ‘InBox’ on February 8th. Available at the pre-order price of only $6.95.

Friday, January 22, 2010

TEAM #11 – Seattle Mariners

Ackley could quickly become one of the games top offensive threats

With the Seattle Mariners coming in at #11, our series is now two thirds of the way complete—leaving only the Top 10 Organizations. We will be speeding up our release on these a bit, releasing five teams per week over the next two weeks, in order to begin our Top 300 countdown on February 10th. Back to the Mariners…The Mariners are a team that is finally—long overdue, undergoing both a management and philosophy change. For years the Mariners had been one of the most aggressive organizations in signing premium Latin American talent. Unfortunately, the player development side of the house was clueless—pushing these high-ceiling prospects through the lower minors at breakneck speeds…until they found a level where they failed. And fail they did, as they found themselves completely overmatched, posted horrendous results, and were doing nothing to further their development. The draft side of the house was perhaps more puzzling, as at one point last season, the previous three #1 draft choices were all being groomed as closers. Then to top things off, there was the Erik Bedard trade, where the Mariners dealt two quality bullpen arms and the best two prospects produced by their system in years (Adam Jones and Chris Tillman) for what is likely to end up as 30 starts. Enter Jack Zduriencik, and perhaps more importantly long-time prospect guru Tony Blengino—who is one of the longest running performance analysts in baseball. The efforts bore immediate fruit, as the Mariners easily had their best draft of the last three years. Now we will have to see how it translates to the development curve because they have a big mess to clean up in that area. Additionally, the system has a tremendous dearth of pitching talent, as only six of their top 33 prospects are pitchers. On the positive side, there is a lot of high ceiling talent to work with here, and a surprising amount of depth. Improvements in the player development area could pay immediate returns.

Grade A

1) Dustin Ackley, CF/2B –

Ackley was clearly the best position player available in the 2009 draft and the Mariners wasted little time selecting him with the #2 overall pick. Ackley immediately jumps to near the top of the list of ‘sweetest swings’ in the Minors. What impresses us even more, is the way that he steps up in big games and against big competition, as in his final 10 games in the ACC playoffs and College World Series, Ackley posted a .511/.569/.911 with 5 home runs. While there are questions about his overall power ceiling, he should produce average power for a Major League OF—and above average if he plays CF or 2B. Ackley is athletically gifted, possesses above average speed, is one of the Minors best contact hitters, also possessing plus plate discipline. While, coming off of Tommy John surgery, he played first base his final year at North Carolina, he is likely to end up at either CF or, if the Mariners’ experiment proves fruitful, second base. The closest player comp that we find is Darin Erstad, but his ceiling is even higher than Erstad. Additionally, this is a high floor player who at the very minimum will hit for average at the next level. We expect that the Mariners will start him out at High Desert, but Ackley should spend the bulk of his time in 2010 at AA.

2) Alex Liddi, 3B (2009 Performance Scores – Power 74; First Base Rate 58; Discipline 45; Speed 56)

We have been ahead of the curve on Liddi, and even though the rest of the baseball world appears to be catching up, we still believe in him more than most. The typical point of disparity is the fact that Liddi posted a .683 OPS for two seasons at Wisconsin (MWL) and then suddenly posted a 1.005 OPS in 2009, aided by one of the most hitter friendly environs in baseball and supported by a .422 BABIP. Make no mistake, 2009 was a breakout year for Liddi, but when analyzing those numbers one has to look a little deeper, as, playing at Wisconsin, Liddi was playing in one of the Minor’s least hitter friendly parks in the least hitter friendly league, and Liddi did post an .855 OPS with a .412 BABIP in his debut season. In fact, both in 2007 and in 2008 he did post Top 15 Performance Scores in the MWL, and Liddi had been on our radar since the Mariners signed him in 2005. More importantly, coming from Italy, Liddi was an extremely raw talent that is just now beginning to put it all together. At 6’4”, 175lbs, there is still significant projection left in the 21yo and he has an excellent work ethic. He is still rather slight, and should add more muscle and power, eventually becoming an above average power hitter. He has a smooth swing that provides above average contact, and while still a work in process, his plate discipline should eventually be an average skill. Defensively, while there remains some fear that he will outgrow the position as he fills out—possessing only adequate footwork, he has soft hands and plenty of arm to stay at 3B—a rare commodity among minor league third base prospects. His biggest weaknesses are marginal speed, and a very raw ability for pitch recognition—which did improve in the second half of 2009. Liddi has the upside of an above average Major League thirdbaseman, and should continue to make converts in AA in 2010.

Grade B+

3) Michael Saunders, OF (2009 – Power 75; First Base Rate 54; Discipline 50; Speed 49)

While a solid prospect, Saunders, likely due to the dearth of premium talent, has been promoted by the Mariners as one of baseball’s elite for a couple of seasons now. This led to his 2009 Big League call-up—which ended disastrously. Saunders does have above average power skills, and pretty much average skills across the board. There is the potential of an everyday Major League outfielder here. However, the ceiling isn’t exceptionally high, and he still strikes out far too frequently (22% in 2009) to guarantee success. The expectation is that he spend considerable time in 2010 in Seattle, and may not see the Minors again if he can make the roster this spring, giving him a strong certainty factor.

4) Michael Pineda, RHP (2009 – Dominance 75; Stamina 61; HRrate 48; Control 77)

After finishing with the #5 Performance Score in the MWL in 2008, Pineda was dominating CAL hitters before elbow soreness pretty much ended his season. If it weren’t for the elbow concerns, he would rate higher on this list. Possessing a huge 6’5”, 250lb frame, Pineda casts an imposing figure on the mound. He couples that with a low 90s fastball and above average secondary offerings that he commands exceptionally well. Pineda has the potential to be a dominating #2 starter. Providing he is healthy, expect the Mariners to move the barely 21yo to AA to begin 2010.

5) Carlos Triunfel, SS/3B? –

Triunfel is one of the poster boys for the over-aggressive development approach of its Latin American prospects that we spoke about. Fortunately/unfortunately the Mariners were forced to slow down their approach with him when he missed nearly the entire 2009 season with a broken fibula—not an insignificant injury to a middle infielder. Never being tremendously fleet of foot to begin with, there are now concerns as to where he is likely to play—with third base seemingly the logical option. Stockily built, Triunfel has a quick bat and aggressive approach that allows him to spray the ball around the diamond. Unfortunately, his power is likely to remain below average to average, and his strike zone management skills are also below average. As a shortstop, his ceiling is considerable, but we are not sure that his bat will play at third base. When 2010 begins, he will still be only 20yo…and already in AA.

6) Adam Moore, C (2009 – Power 56; First Base Rate 62; Discipline 56; Speed32)

With the departure of Kenji Johjima, and Rob Davis recovering from off-season surgery, Moore has a prime opportunity to open the season on the Big League roster—perhaps even in the starting lineup. That makes his certainty score rather high. Which is a good thing, because Moore isn’t a high-ceiling guy—favored more for his lack of weaknesses than his plusses. Excepting speed—of which there is none, Moore has average skills across the board. Defensively, Moore has improved significantly over the last couple of seasons to where he now shows above average catch and throw skills, as well as a penchant for calling a solid game. While we don’t expect any all-star appearances, Moore has the upside of an average to slightly below everyday Major League backstop.

Grade B

7) Julio Morban, OF (2009 – Power 75; First Base Rate 23; Discipline 35; Speed 58)

We rated Morbon as the top position player signed out of Latin America in 2008. The Mariners thought highly enough of him to allow him to debut in the APY, before spending most of the season in the AZL as a 17yo, where he posted the #7 Performance score in the League. With plus power potential, and a precocious hitting approach, there is significant upside here, but a lot of work to be done, as he walked only 7 times in over 170 PAs—while fanning 51 times. Defensively Morban possesses above average coverage skills, but a merely adequate arm may lead to an eventual move to LF. Morban will begin the season as an 18yo, and we expect the new regime to have him make his 2010 debut in short-season ball.

8) Guillermo Pimentel, OF

The Mariners top signing ($2 million) from their 2009 Latin American efforts, Pimentel ranked #3 on our pre-July 2nd list. Pimentel possesses plus power potential and an advanced hitting approach. The downside is that he has only corner outfield speed, and lacks the arm to play right field, setting the bar a bit higher. Additionally, he struggled through most of the spring with nagging injuries—dissuading teams like the Yankees that had been previously been linked to him. Like Morbon above, expect the Mariners to send him to the AZL in 2010.

9) Johermyn Chavez, RF (2009 – Power 76; First Base Rate 48; Discipline 37; Speed 52)

Acquired in the trade that sent Brandon Morrow to the Blue Jays, Chavez possesses a ton of upside and one of the minors most chiseled physiques. The Blue Jays had been touting Chavez since signing him in 2005, but it wasn’t until his breakout 2009 where he looked ready to fulfill his potential. Possessing plus power, solid speed and a strong arm, Chavez’s ceiling is that of a power hitting everyday Major League right fielder. If he is to reach that, however, he is going to have to learn to better recognize and lay-off the breaking balls. Chavez will play 2010 at High Desert, where his power could put up huge home run totals.

10) Greg Halman, CF (2009 – Power 77; First Base Rate 22; Discipline 20; Speed 51)

Coming off of a breakout 2008, big things were expected out of Halman…especially since he was returning to West Tennessee where he had posted an .813 the season before. Sadly, it was not to be, as Halman pressed for most of the season, and his return trip led to a .697 OPS and a Minor League leading 191 strikeouts. There is no doubting his upside, nor his plus-plus power potential, but there are huge questions about his plate approach that must be resolved if he is ever going to achieve success. Defensively, he grades out as an above average centerfielder with adequate speed and a powerful arm. Still just 22yo, look for Halman to return to AA—for a third go-round in 2010, with the results going a long way to determining his future.

11) Dan Cortes, RHP (2009 – Dominance 56; Stamina 68; HRrate 49; Control 25)

Acquired from Kansas City in the Mariner’s dump of Betancourt, Cortes biggest issues are seemingly between his ears. Cortes started the season as one of a very promising group of young Royal arms, but disputes between team officials and he/his management group as to how he was being developed led to him being sent home. Finally a mid-summer arrest led to the Royals washing their hands of a very live arm. With a low-90s fastball and a solid curve, Cortes has a floor of a solid back of the bullpen guy. The Mariners, however, hope that he can develop his change to a viable pitch and remain in the rotation. His command at this point remains considerably deficient. There is significant upside here, and if it weren’t for the off-the-field issues that kept him off the field, Cortes would likely rank higher. The concerns between make-up and command are significant though. At 23yo, and already having repeated AA, we expect the Mariners to promote him—ready or not, to begin 2010, where he will have to work on answering those concerns.

12) Nick Franklin, SS –

Franklin had been hanging around the second round range for most of the spring, before an outstanding performance at Sebring vaulted him to #28 on our draft day list. The Mariners took him at #27. Our attraction to Franklin was that, outside of Jio Mier, we felt that he was the only prep shortstop on the board that was likely to both stay at shortstop and hit enough to make the Major Leagues. Franklin is often compared to Aaron Hill, but we don’t see anything more than below average power here. He will make solid contact though and his athleticism and lateral quickness should make-up for a fringy arm. It is likely that he will begin 2010 in full-season A-ball.

13) Gabriel Noriega, SS (2009 – Power 54; First Base Rate 57; Discipline 33; Speed 51)

The Mariners have signed a lot of Latin American shortstop prospects over the last few years, but none of them show the glovework of Noriega. With excellent instincts, soft-hands, great footwork, and a plus arm, Noriega is the complete defensive package. He’ll need it too, because it his offensive skills that will determine whether or not we see his defense at the Big League level. On the positive side, as an 18yo in the APY in 2009, he did post a Top 20 Performance score, showing solid contact skills, and even more power than we would have predicted. With a very questionable bat, the upside here is limited, but much like the development path that Alcides Escobar took for the Brewers, Noriega will be afforded many opportunities for his offense to develop solely on the basis of his exceptional glove. The Mariners face an interesting dilemma in determining where both Noriega and Nick Franklin will play in 2010.

14) Mauricio Robles, LHP (2009 – Dominance 72; Stamina 68; HRrate 48; Control 33)

Acquired by the Mariners in the Jarrod Washburn trade, the diminutive Robles immediately became the top left-hander in the system. Robles best pitch is a late-moving, low-90s, fastball. His secondary offerings remain works in process, although he achieved amazing success on the diamond in 2009, posting the #4, #5 and #5 Performance Scores in stops in the MWL, FSL and CAL. A lack of repeatability—and hence lack of command, remains his biggest weakness. While there isn’t a significant upside here, Robles will play the 2010 season as a 21yo in AA.

Grade B-

15) Rich Poythress, 1B (2009 – Power 28; First Base Rate 73; Discipline 28; Speed 37)

Poythress spent most of the Spring being considered a certain first round selection, however he disappeared late in the season—causing his stock to plummet. We had him as the #27 talent on draft day—going to Seattle in the first round. The Mariners opted for Franklin instead, and found Poythress still there in round #2. A sound defender, Poythress lacks the pure power skills usually associated with first base, but does possess a polished hitting approach that could eventually produce average power. The Mariners thought enough of Poythress to send him to AA after signing—where he struggled and showed uncharacteristically poor strike zone management skills. This isn’t a high upside player, but one who should produce enough offensively to have a solid major league career as a part-time player, or even a starter on a second-division team. Look for him to return to AA to start 2010.

16) Josh Fields, RP (2009 – Dominance 71; Stamina 25; HRrate 49; Control 23)

Another in the long line of examples of why to fear prospects with protracted contract holdouts, Fields had a clear opportunity to make his way to Seattle in 2009 and didn’t come close to delivering. Already 24yo, there isn’t a lot of remaining projection here, and while he certainly has demonstrated the knack of striking guys out, his command remains a big issue. With a mid-90s heater and a plus curve (when he controls it), Fields will make it or fail as a back of the bullpen guy. While he could develop into a closer, we are going to have to find more out of an already polished product. He’ll likely begin 2010 in AAA, but is really expecting to be in Seattle at some point in 2010.

17) Mario Martinez, 3B (2009 – Power 46; First Base Rate 29; Discipline 57; Speed 44)

Another of the Latin American shortstop prospects signed by the Mariners, Martinez has already moved off that position and is becoming a plus defender at third base. Coming off a solid 2008, where he posted the #8 Performance score in the APY, the Mariners aggressively promoted the then 19yo to full-season A-ball where he proved to be considerably over-matched. Once short-season play began, they sent him to the NWL, where he once again posted the #8 Performance Score. Still very raw offensively, Martinez shows potential for plus power and average contact and strike zone management skills. Despite being young for the Leagues, has kept his strikeout rate at a playable 20%, but will have to continue to make improvements as he moves up the ladder. The upside here is that of an average, everyday, Major League third baseman with an above average glove, although the more likely outcome may be that of an extremely capable reserve. He’ll get a return trip to full-season A-ball in 2010.

18) Mike Carp, 1B (2009 – Power 62; First Base Rate 61; Discipline 34; Speed 30)
Carp remains one of the most unsung players in the Minors, as he has consistently posted performances that indicate Major League success at almost every stop he has made. At 23yo and already Big League ready, Carp looked poised to assume the everyday first base job with the Mariners this year before they signed Casey Kotchman. As is, he is still better than even money to earn a roster spot this spring. The knock against Carp is that he is limited to a first base role, and doesn’t have traditional first base power skills. Carp does however possess above average contact skills, and we still believe, given the opportunity, he has the ceiling of a Mark Grace type player.

19) Erasmo Ramirez, RHP (2009 – Dominance 77; Stamina 80; HRrate 50; Control 78)

Understanding full well that the Venezuelan Summer League (VSL) is about the lowest rung on the ladder of professional baseball, Ramirez improved upon his 2008 #4 Performance Score, to post the Top Performance score in the League and earn MVP honors in 2009. At 5’11, 180lbs, possessing little more than a 90MPH fastball, the scouts aren’t going to fall in love with this kid, but any level that you can fan 80 in 88 innings—while walking only 5, should get you noticed. Ramirez will make his U.S. debut this summer, where the 19yo will have to work on developing his secondary offerings, but he already shows precocious pitchability and excellent command. Not a tremendous upside, but someone who could be a nice addition at the back of a Big League rotation.

Grade C+ Prospects –

20) Ezequiel Carrera, CF; 21) Dennis Raben, OF; 22) Steve Baron, C; 23) Jharmidy DeJesus, 3B; 24) Shawn Kelley, RP; 25) Matt Tuiasosoppo, 3B; 26) Juan Diaz, SS; 27) Kyle Seager, 3B; 28) James Jones, RF; 29) Joe Dunigan, 1B; 30) Edilio Colina, 2B; 31) Vincent Catricala, 3B; 32) Jose Rivero, CF; 33) Tommy Everidge, 1B; 34) Gaby Hernandez, RHP; 35) Jochy Ogando, RHP; 36) George Mieses, RHP; 37) Efrain Nunez, RF; 38) Jose Valdivia, RP.

Grade C Prospects –

Denny Almonte; Tyler Blandford; Andres Brito; Andrew Carraway; Daniel Carroll; Maikel Cleto; Nick Czyz; Anthony Fernandez; Shaver Hansen; Steven Hensley; Jon Hesketh; Ambioris Hidalgo; Nick Hill; John Housey; Kenn Kasparek; Matt Mangini; Brandon Maurer; James McOwen; Alfredo Morales; Carlos Peguero; Anthony Phillips; Ivan Ramirez; Jose Rios; Taylor Stanton; Kanekoa Texiera; Jean Tome; Anthony Varvaro.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season. For additional information on our rankings methodology, see our recent Mailbag article here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions.