Monday, January 31, 2011

TEAM #20 – Chicago Cubs

McNutt sits atop an organization without a clear #1 prospect

While at first glance, it would appear that the Cubs organization is down considerably from last year’s ranking (TEAM #6 – Chicago Cubs), the reality is that, prior to the Matt Garza deal, the Cubs were positioned to rate at least ten spots higher. This in some ways makes the deal that much more puzzling, as it clearly was a deal made from a ‘win now’ mentality. While the Cubs have lost little from a team that finished twelve games below .500 and sixteen games behind the Reds—who return virtually the same team that they put on the field last year—the addition of Garza and the minor upgrade of Pena at first base, looks to at best cut the gap between the two teams in half—not to mention they remain behind the much improved Brewers. With a payroll likely to approach $130 million in 2010, and locked into the Alfonso Soriano contract through 2014--one that remains one of the games worst, it isn’t like the Cubs possess the payroll flexibility to make additional moves to improve the team and truly make a run at the NL Central. So why mortgage the future? I could provide you with a cynical response that discusses Jim Hendry’s desire to be employed with the team beyond his current 2012 contract—necessitating the ‘all-in’ mind set. Or I could point out the Cubs’ record of draft futility under Hendry, whereby in the seven drafts prior to 2010 the yield amounts to Jake Fox, Sean Marshall, Tyler Colvin, Jeff Samardzija, Andrew Cashner, Chris Carpenter, Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson—seriously that is the best of it; giving the Ricketts’ family every reason to have someone else in place before another June comes and goes, therefore requiring a hot start in 2011 just to save Hendry’s job. But there is a better explanation for giving up what were arguably your two best prospects for one above-average Matt Garza.

The Cubs were locked into at least $110 of that $130 million payroll prior to acquiring Pena and Garza, with the contracts of Soriano ($19.0), Zambrano ($18.9), Ramirez ($14.6), Fukodome ($14.5) and Silva ($12.8) being virtually unmovable right now. An all out rebuilding effort, and the accompanying ticket sale hit, isn’t an option with that kind of number. So the plan appears to be to at least create the appearance of competitiveness for the first half of the season, sell the tickets and reassess at the all-star break. If they truly are in it, they stand pat. If, however, the more likely scenario occurs and they fall out of contention, the contracts of Ramirez, Fukodome, Silva and Pena (a total $52 million) all expire at season’s end, making them far more attractive to a contender for half of a season and you may even get back more than you gave up for Garza, while still having Garza under control through 2013. While you’ll still have to live with the Soriano debacle, 2012 and 2013 look to be the Cubs rebuilding years, with virtually no additional payroll commitments.

It is a perhaps a good thing that the Cubs won’t likely enter complete rebuilding until 2012, because there is little in the way of elite prospects or immediate prospect help—outside of the bullpen—presently in the system. While the Cubs’ currently lack elite level prospects, there is considerable organizational depth—only five teams have more prospects that we have graded ‘C’ or better; mostly provided by one of baseball’s more successful international programs. Between 2003 and 2009, the Cubs spent nearly $32 million on the draft; yet, the same time-frame saw them spend less than one-third of that amount on international bonuses. Those international bonuses, however, produced Starlin Castro, Hak-Ju Lee and twelve of their current top twenty-five prospects.

The Cubs are likely to see a steady influx of talent, from the Minors, during the second half of 2011. Our best guess is that this is a system that will not only experience new leadership over the next few seasons, but will have a vastly different makeup by 2013. This likely means a few more years of continued futility at the Major League level, but that was inevitable with the weight of those horrific contracts.

Best Pick from 2010 – While we still have questions about Chris Archer’s ability to be more than a two-pitch back of the bullpen reliever, we had him at #11 heading into the season, higher than everyone and considerably higher than some. This year, no one had him lower than #4 prior to the Matt Garza trade.

Worst Pick from 2010 – The off-again on-again Kyler Burke was a horrible choice at #6, as his progression of two years per level looks to get him to the Major Leagues around 2015—at the age of 27yo.

Grade A-

1) Trey McNutt, RHP (2010 Performance Scores– Dominance 75; Control 59; HRrate 60; Stamina 65)
We predicted in last year’s edition that McNutt wouldn’t spend more than a half-season in the Midwest League (MWL) after destroying Northwest League (NWL) hitters in his 2009 debut. What we didn’t predict was that the Florida State League (FSL) wouldn’t hold him for long and the 21yo would finish out the season in the Southern League (SOL). Along the way, McNutt posted the #11 Performance Score in the MWL and the #5 Performance Score in the FSL. 2010 saw his fastball improve to a mid-90s offering and his curve begin to look, potentially, like a plus pitch. McNutt battles with control from time to time, but that too seemed to improve as the season wore on—despite the advanced levels. Through three stops, opposing hitters managed only a .217 average against. At 6’4”, 205lbs, McNutt has all the makings of a quality Big League #2. The Cubs are likely to return McNutt to the SOL to begin 2011, as he won’t turn 22yo until the Minor League season is nearly complete. A September call-up is not out of the question.

2) Brett Jackson, CF (2010– Power 68; Discipline 39; First Base Rate 66; Speed 71)

Through the two seasons since the Cubs made Jackson a first round selection in 2009, he has showed a bit more patience than perhaps we expected, enabling him to post slight better on-base rates, but still doesn’t make contact as often as we would like to see to ensure confidence of future success. Nonetheless, Jackson split his time in 2010 between the FSL—where he posted the #5 Performance Score—and the SOL—where he rated #10. Capable of playing any of the outfield positions, Jackson’s greatest value will come of he remains in center, where his power would make him an above average offensive threat. At worst, he becomes a quality fourth outfielder, getting 400+ ABs annually. While Jackson is headed to AAA to open the year, he will likely make his way to Chicago at some point during 2011—perhaps when the Cubs find a take for Fukodome.

3) Josh Vitters, 3B (2010– Power 70; Discipline 56; First Base Rate 29; Speed 45)

We’ll get the negatives out of the way by telling you that Vitters is never going to be a gold glove third baseman and still has miles to go to become a patient hitter at the plate. There you have it, and when you read criticism that goes beyond that…take it with a grain of salt. Vitter played nearly the entire 2010 season as a 20yo. He has shown a consistent pattern of initially struggling at each new level before putting it all together around 250-300 PAs. Last season was no different, and Vitters still managed the #3 Performance Score in the FSL and the #11 Performance Score in the SOL—despite what his detractors may lead you to believe. With the upside of an everyday, power hitting, Major League third baseman, there is a ton of potential here—it just may take a couple of additional seasons to be fully realized. With a less than 18% strikeout rate, we see no obstacles to keep him from making the necessary adjustments. Look for Vitters to return to the SOL to begin 2011. Given his youth, the Cubs aren’t likely to push him hard this season. That said, he could be ready to take on the everyday job in Chicago by mid-2012.

Grade B+

4) Jay Jackson, RHP (2010– Dominance 47; Control 64; HRrate 41; Stamina 67)

After a roller coaster-like 2009 in which Jackson experienced both extreme highs and extreme lows, 2010 was a far more steady experience as the then 22yo Jackson spent the entire season in the Pacific Coast League (PCL), posting the circuit’s #12 Performance Score with solid, if unspectacular, numbers. With a low 90’s fastball and three at least average Major League offerings, Jackson looks primed to step into the role of a mid-rotation innings eater. But there were signs of concern in 2010 that will have to be addressed first, as Jackson’s strikeout rate dipped to 6.8 batters per 9 innings and he walked half of his season’s total in his last 11 appearances. We believe Jackson’s real area of concern lies between his ears and not in his arm. He is still relatively young and must learn to better handle adversity. If he is able to make the emotional/mental adjustments the upside is solid. Look for the Cubs to return Jackson to AAA to begin 2011. He should find his way to Chicago at some point during the season.

Grade B

5) Hayden Simpson, RHP -

The baseball world sounded a collective ‘Who?’ when the Cubs announced their first round selection, 16th overall, last June. We had Simpson as a 4th/5th round selection on our board, but Tim Wilken stands by what has been an oft-criticized pick. Coming from tiny Division II Southern Arkansas, where he amassed a record career, the book on Simpson was that he threw a low-90s fastball, already possessed a plus curve, and had two other potential average Big League offerings—the type of repertoire that has #3/#4 starter written all over it. But Cubs’ scouts caught Simpson in the Division II playoffs and believe his fastball is potentially a mid-90s offering, and were blown away by his curve. They believe that they got a potential #2 and believe other teams were in on him and would have nabbed him before their next pick at #65…we remain skeptical. With players that have no available performance data (no we don’t analyze Division II data), our projection model uses phenotypical data elements to develop comps, the #16 slot and $1 million bonus, may be making Simpson look better than he really is. In either case, Simpson will not make his debut until this spring in either the MWL or FSL, and we will have to wait until then to draw better conclusions.

6) Matt Szczur, OF (2010– Power 58; Discipline 73; First Base Rate 75; Speed 56)

The Cubs have convinced him to give up his career as a running back after a solid professional debut followed his 5th round selection this past June. Many see Szczur as being short on the power tool, and question whether he can become more than a fourth outfielder type. Others see Szczur as being athletically gifted, with a chance to flourish now that his full time focus will be on baseball. We likely fall some place in between, as we believe in his plus speed and excellent plate discipline skills and question his power—if he eventually moves out of center to an outfield corner. While impressive, his 101 AB debut—spread over three stops—provided little insight into his true performance level and we eagerly await the 2011 season. We see no reason to believe that Szczur will be moving to a corner any time soon. His makeup and work ethic are off the charts. Given his football background, a right-handed Darin Erstad is an obvious and applicable upside comp. Look for Szczur to make his 2011 debut in the FSL.

7) Michael Burgess, RF (2010– Power 77; Discipline 28; First Base Rate 45; Speed 42)

If you haven’t picked up on the trend quite yet, the Cubs list is littered with prospects that draw little in the way of consensus opinion. Burgess, acquired from the Nationals in the Tom Gorzelanny deal this winter is no exception. Since, the Nationals drafted him in the sandwich round in 2007, Burgess’ reputation has been one of huge power and a propensity to swing and miss way too often. 2010 was of little exception. We remain higher on Burgess than most, mainly because we believe that at some point in his development he will relax his swing and make more consistent contact. We thought we were beginning to see signs of that in a repeat performance in the CAR this year where Burgess, cut his strikeout rate to just over 20%, while posting the circuit’s #18 Performance Score. But alas, a promotion to the ESL had Burgess swinging for the fences and whiffing at an alarming rate. With a plus arm, Burgess has the requisite tools to become a power hitting, everyday, Major League right fielder. When he does make contact, he punishes the ball and the trade to Chicago automatically tabs him as the prospect with the most power potential in the system. Burgess didn’t turn 22yo until after the season ended, so he is plenty young enough to realize his potential and 2011 will be a critical year to show some evolution. Look for Burgess to begin the season in the SOL.

8) Jae-Hoon Ha, RF (2010– Power 60; Discipline 73; First Base Rate 51; Speed 56)

Another prospect with divided opinion, Ha has those that believe that while his gap power would have been adequate as a backstop—where the Cubs envisioned him when signing him in 2008—it is never going to be enough as a Major League corner. Then there are others, us included, that believe Ha is the best kept secret in the system—possessing potentially special baseball skills. What we can tell you, with certainty, is that the MWL is no hitters paradise and the 6’1”, 185 lb, Ha slugged .468 there in 2010—as a 19yo—on his way to posting the League’s #9 Performance Score. Our models project potentially 15-20 home run power—with the upside even higher, above average contact and average speed. With clearly advanced baseball fundamentals, Ha transitioned easily to the outfield and appears to be a natural right fielder with a strong arm. Ha’s profile comps more than justify this ranking, and leave us wondering how he remains relatively unknown. While we realize we are going out on a bit of a limb with this one, we expect Ha to live up to our hype in the FSL in 2011.

9) Chris Carpenter, RHP (2010– Dominance 48; Control 50; HRrate 66; Stamina 69)

A breakout 2009 put Carpenter on the prospect map, and he followed it up with a solid, albeit unspectacular 2010. Given his age, already 25yo, Carpenter would have ranked lower on this list, if it wasn’t for his intriguing AZFL campaign this fall, where pitching strictly out of the pen, we saw his fastball tick up to a mid- to high- 90s offering. Once viewed purely through the lens as of a mid-rotation starter, it may be a bullpen role for which he is best suited. With only a heavy fastball and biting slider as developed offerings, we see the grains of sand trickling through Carpenter’s hour glass, as he continues to lack a quality change and still fights control issues far too often. As a starter, he would likely require another full season in AAA, thereby making him 26yo before making his Major League debut. As a reliever, he could compete for a job this spring, and would be almost certain to see an opportunity for him in Chicago at some point in 2011.

10) Alberto Cabrera, RHP (2010– Dominance 51; Control 46; HRrate 57; Stamina 66)

With a mid-90s fastball and two potentially average secondary offerings, the 22yo Cabrera has the makings of a solid mid-rotation starter. His 2010 FSL performance earned him the League’s #15 Performance Score. On the downside, Cabrera is in his sixth professional season and has still not shown the requisite control of a Major League starter. He is young enough to have established a solid floor as an adequate bull pen arm. The question is whether or not it will be with the Cubs, because if they make a series of unbalanced mid-season deals, as we expect, Cabrera’s roster spot will be coveted. This makes it essential for Cabrera to show development when he returns to the SOL to begin 2011, or he becomes trade bait.

11) Reggie Golden, OF

We had Golden as solid second round selection, so the Cubs received good value when they tabbed him with the 65th pick. More potential than production at this stage, Golden has plus raw power and plus speed. Defensively he currently has the range for center, but will likely end up in right where his strong arm will be an asset. The downside is that Burgess…I mean Golden… is an over aggressive hitter with limited patience at the plate and the propensity to swing and miss quite often. Golden is likely to begin 2011 in extended spring training before making his debut in the NWL this summer.

12) Matt Cerda, 3B (2010– Power 40; Discipline 74; First Base Rate 74; Speed 46)

Another player who we appear to be higher on than most, Cerda was originally drafted as a catcher when the Cubs selected him in the fourth round in 2008. Coming into 2010, a string of injuries had limited him to 177 ABs over his first two seasons. Out from behind the plate, the Cubs still haven’t decided on a position for him, as at 5’9”, 165lbs, he lacks the requisite power for third base and doesn’t display the fundamental quickness for the middle of the diamond. We expect that second base will be his ultimate destination, where his below average power and speed will be made up for by one of the Minor League’s best approaches to plate discipline. Only 20yo, we expect additional upside offensive projection with Cerda. At best, he becomes an adequate, everyday, Major League second baseman. With his strike zone management skills, the floor seems to be at a quality utility player. Look for Cerda in the FSL in 2011, where the Cubs will hopefully settle on a position for him.

Other Potential Top 300 Prospects – 13) Wellington Castillo, C; 14) Junior Lake, IF.

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 and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

TEAM #21 – Washington Nationals

We are expecting a major step forward from Norris this season

As was forecast last year (TEAM #25 – Washington Nationals), the Nationals’ system is making tremendous upward progress after years as the League’s aimlessly nomadic team. Getting the #1 overall pick two years in a row doesn’t hurt any, but keep in mind that the Nationals didn’t sign a first round pick in 2008 and both of their 2009 first round picks made solid Major League debuts in 2010, taking them off of this year’s list. The point being that the improvement is coming from more than just having the best pick. While the #1 picks have been a huge part of things, the Nationals have spent heavy on the draft for the last two seasons, signing A.J. Cole, Drew Storen and Sammy Solis—in addition to Strasburg and Harper—to million dollar plus contracts. Unfortunately, this was made possible because of legal and compliance problems that essentially gutted their Latin American scouting efforts after the Carlos Alvarez/Esmailyn Gonzalez fiasco. The Nationals have not signed a major prospect out of the region since.

On the Big League side, the Nationals are pursuing a peculiar track. After shedding nearly $35 million from 2010 payrolls by not signing or by trading players like Adam Dunn, Cristian Guzman, Josh Willingham, Willy Taveras and Matt Capps, the Nationals look to be actually increasing payroll by nearly 10% after deals adding Jayson Werth (likely a horrendous contract), Adam LaRoche, Tom Gorzelanny, Jerry Hairston and Rick Ankiel. In a division in which the Phillies and the Braves appear to be considerably better, and in a year in which their best pitcher (Stephen Strasburg) will miss due to Tommy John surgery, we find the strategy puzzling—to say the least. But let’s not dwell on the Major League roster too much, as the Nationals’ future clearly lies in the Minor Leagues. With a system headed by Bryce Harper, possibly as many as four Top 100 prospects, and three of the top thirty-four picks in what is shaping up to be an extremely strong 2012 draft, the Nationals are a team with their best days ahead.

Best Pick from 2010 – The Top 3 from last year’s list were pretty much consensus picks, so there is little to choose from there, even as Stephen Strasburg lived up to all of his hype. Our best pick was slotting Eury Perez at #8, as he was not an industry Top 10 selection coming into the year, but is pretty much a consensus pick now. Our #4 ranking this year, will still likely be higher than any other. We also were somewhat prescient when we warned on Justin Maxwell last year as we slid him all the way down to #17 and he had a miserable 2010 season.

Worst Pick from 2010 – This was actually quite difficult to come up with, as we hit the Nationals better than anyone in 2010. Having to choose one, we will go with Jeff Kobernus , who we actually had lower than the industry consensus at #9, but falls outside of the top thirty this season.

Grade A

1) Bryce Harper, RF -

When your hype includes the cover of Sports Illustrated—at age 16---it would be rather difficult for the reality to match it. However, there is few among the baseball world, after watching him at College of Southern Nevada this spring and in Arizona this fall, that doubt that the hype surrounding this 18yo is undeserved. A first rate defensive backstop, the Nationals are moving Harper from behind the plate in an effort to ensure the offensive production of their prized commodity. It is difficult to describe the raw tools possessed by Harper without sounding like a pre-teen girl prattling on about their favorite Jonas Brother, but that is just the facts that surround Harper. His power may rate as the best of any prospect currently in the Minor Leagues, as he belted 31 home runs and SLUGGED .987 this spring. Granted it was a mere 40 plate appearances in Arizona, but, as a 17yo, his AZFL SLG was .629. While his hulking swing that generates his massive power leaves him vulnerable, the quickness of his bat allows him to compensate for it and still make above average contact. Despite a 6’3”, 225lb, frame, Harper is tremendously gifted, athletically, and swiped 20 bases at Southern Nevada. While he’ll never be a burner, he will have plus speed for a right-fielder. As gifted as Harper is offensively, his talents defensively may be even more impressive. With his athleticism, and a fastball that has been clocked in the mid-90s, Harper could be a plus defender either behind the plate or at third base. The Nationals will, however, use him in right field where he covers significant ground and shows a plus-plus arm. We’d use the trite cliché of ‘the natural’ to describe Harper, except that his natural abilities are only part of his exceptional makeup, as he works incredibly hard at his craft and possesses a fierce competiveness in every phase of the game. We’d tell you that his comparables, given his age/level of performance show tremendous upside, but the reality is that there are so very few comparables in our 40-plus year database—and even among those that are similar Harper exceeds the overwhelming majority. This doesn’t mean to imply that Harper doesn’t have things to work on, as we expect more polished pitchers to take advantage of all of the motion in his swing and aggressive approach. Showing solid plate discipline is likely to be the factor that governs his advancement. While it is still a relatively closely guarded secret as to where Harper opens, our bet is that he receives the majority of his At Bats in the Carolina League (CAR), where he won’t turn 19 until the season is over. That said, it wouldn’t surprise us even slightly to see him in AA before the year is out and in the Majors around mid-season 2012—no later than early 2013. The hype is deserved.

Grade A-

2) Derek Norris, C (2010 Performance Scores – Power 71; Discipline 23; First Base Rate 79; Speed 54)

We had forecast this spring that Norris’ hamate bone injury was likely to depress his power output in 2010 and it was down roughly 20% from his 2009 levels. Consider this a one-year aberration that should correct itself in 2011, as Norris possesses plus power for a catcher. His ability to patiently wait for walks is among the best in the Minors. Norris’ ball striking ability is solid, as he sprays line drives to all fields. If it weren’t for all of those strikeouts—a 24% rate last year, up from 22% in 2009. With the graduation of Wieters, Posey and Santana to the Majors; what, for the last couple of seasons, had been a Minor League catching crop that showed strength and depth of historic proportions has thinned considerably. Not considering Montero or Myers, who are unlikely to play the position at the next level, Norris could arguably be the best backstop prospect remaining. While it used to be questionable as to whether he could defensively handle the position, Norris has made enough progress that it now seems likely he will reach the Majors as a backstop. With Wilson Ramos ahead of him, Norris has organizational competition. Look for him to begin 2011 in AA, with a chance of being in Washington in 2012.

Grade B+

3) A. J. Cole, RHP

We had Cole as a mid- to late-first round selection—one of the five premium prep arms available—entering June’s draft, so imagine the Nationals elation when he was still available with their fourth round pick. A fall that was purely based on signability, the Nationals gave him the mid-first round money, and looked to have significantly improved their 2010 draft class. With a projectable 6’4”, 180lb, frame, Cole uses a low-90s fastball as his swing and miss pitch. It may end up as a mid-90s offering. Add to that a potentially plus curve and a developing change and you have all the makings of a potential #2 starter. Look for Cole to open 2011 in full-season A-ball, with the potential to advance by mid-season.

4) Eury Perez, OF (2010 Performance Scores – Power 32; Discipline 68; First Base Rate 65; Speed 80)

We are fairly certain that we have Perez higher than most anyone, as we have for the last three seasons. Perez added a #14 Performance Score in the South Atlantic League (SAL) in 2010 to a #7 in the 2009 GCL and a #5 in the DSL and is quickly approaching the elite prospect level. Plus speed, a good eye and solid contact skills provide Perez with the ability to be a top of the order offense igniter. Defensively, he covers sizeable ground and possesses an arm that is adequate for center field. Perez’s main negative is a lack of power that projects to be of the 10-12 HR variety. 2012 is a critical year for Perez, who is likely to begin the year in the Carolina League. He will have to avoid the slow start that he experienced in 2010 if he is to continue his upward trajectory.

5) Danny Espinosa, SS (2010 Performance Scores – Power 64; Discipline 40; First Base Rate 53; Speed 67)

After 22 games in Puerto Rico, Espinosa had Hamate surgery that will likely slow his ascension to the eventual role of Nationals’ everyday shortstop. Penciled in as a likely opening day middle infielder before the surgery, while Espinosa is likely to return in time for spring training, we expect his offensive performance to be slowed—especially the plus power that he projects as a middle infielder. This may lead to him beginning the season in AAA where he can work on reducing that 23% strikeout rate. With average speed, contact skills and shortstop defense, Espinosa has the upside of an at least average everyday Major League middle infielder. With more than 100 Major League at bats already under his belt, his certainty factor is solid. Expect to find Espinosa regularly penciled into the National lineup at some point this season.

Grade B

6) Wilson Ramos, C (2010 Performance Scores – Power 43; Discipline 63; First Base Rate 34; Speed 33)

Acquired from the Twins in the Matt Capps deal, all told, Ramos had what must be considered somewhat of a disappointing 2010 season, as he went from being arguable one of the five best catching prospects in the Minors to being the second best backstop prospect on his team. Because of this, Ramos is likely a bit undervalued, at the moment, and has a chance to see considerable playing time in Washington this season behind the 39yo Rodriguez. With the exception of defense—where he excels—Ramos does most everything average, but possesses no plus offensive skills. His upside is that of an above average defensive catcher with a potentially average offensive skill set. He will enter 2011 battling Flores for the backup position and will likely be the favorite to hold the everyday position beginning 2012. While his ceiling is slightly higher, our guess is that Ramos spends a number of seasons as a #2 catcher on a Big League roster.

7) Sammy Solis, LHP

We had Solis pegged as a solid second round selection on draft day and therefore feel the Nationals received good value for the pickup—despite his $1 million bonus. Signing late, he pitched all of four innings before appearing in the AZFL, where we were pleasantly surprised by how smoothly he transitioned to the professional game. A large 6’5”, 230lbs, Solis possesses a low-90s fastball, but uses it primarily to set up a plus change. His breaking ball is developing, but he has the makings of a solid mid-rotation innings eater. The downside is that Solis lacks a dominant ‘out’ pitch, that limits his upside value. We expect Solis to begin 2011 in the CAR, with a chance to move to AA before the season is out.

8) Chris Marrero, 1B (2010 Performance Scores – Power 61; Discipline 57; First Base Rate 59; Speed 32)

Once considered the top prospect in the organization, the 2006 first round pick has slowly descended these rankings the last three seasons. It isn’t that his skill set has declined, it is more that it is clear that he will be limited defensively to first base, and his offensive skills have not advanced much. Still Marrero, possesses above average power to go along with average contact and strike zone management skills—all of which lead to a Top 20 Performance Score in the ESL in 2010. While it is possible that Marrero could still become an average everyday Major League first baseman, it is looking more likely that his role will be limited to a solid right-handed bench hitter. Marrero should begin 2011 in AAA, with a strong shot of getting to Washington this season.

9) Steve Lombardozzi, 2B (2010 Performance Scores – Power 72; Discipline 72; First Base Rate 60; Speed 50)

The prototypical ‘low-ceiling’, ‘high-floor’ prospect, Lombardozzi put up the best numbers of his career in 2010, posting the #16 Performance Score in the CAR before an even better showing in the ESL. Possessing no real plus tool, Lombardozzi makes up for it with a solid across-the-board skill set and a strong work ethic. His plate discipline skills are first rate and that bodes well for further development. Still just 22yo, there is little to reason to doubt that he can continue to evolve to the point of being an average everyday Major League second baseman—although a utility infielder role is more probable. Lombardozzi will return to the ESL in 2011 and should figure into that Desmond/Espinosa middle infield mix by 2012.

10) J.P. Ramirez, OF (2010 Performance Scores – Power 71; Discipline 69; First Base Rate 41; Speed 33)

Not powerfully built, Ramirez shows surprisingly strong hit skills, as he posted a Top 20 Performance Score in the SAL in 2010. The reason he doesn’t rate higher, is that Ramirez is likely defensively limited to left field—where the offensive bar is high. Ramirez possesses average power, and reasonable strike zone management skills. On the negative side, his speed is below average and, to this point, Ramirez has not shown the patience to reach base via the walk. Only 20yo, we can’t rule out enough development to become an average everyday Major League left fielder, but the likelihood is more of the 4th outfielder type. Ramirez will move up to the CAR to begin 2011.

11) Brad Peacock, RHP (2010– Dominance 62; Control 50; HRrate 33; Stamina 72)

The 22yo Peacock had a solid 2010 regular season, posting the #10 Performance Score in the CAR. But where he really made people take notice was his fall performance, out of the bullpen, in the AZFL—where he fanned 17 batters in 12 innings. Peacock possesses a low-90s fastball, that became a mid-90s offering in the AZFL and a plus curve. While not on par with the first two pitches, his change shows enough promise to make us believe that he could become a Major League #3/#4 type starter. That said, rest assured that the Nationals are keenly aware of his work out of the pen. With Peacock being on the smallish side, they have to be considering converting him to a reliever where he could make an impact as early as this season. Look for Peacock to begin 2011 back in the rotation in the ESL and it wouldn’t surprise us to find him in Washington before the year is out.

12) Tom Milone, LHP (2010– Dominance 69; Control 76; HRrate 63; Stamina 73)

The prototypical ‘crafty lefty’, Milone showed his usual solid stuff in 2010 on his way to a Top 10 Performance Score in the ESL. Milone might rank higher if he had more to offer than a high-80s fastball. The fastball looks faster though due to Milone’s plus change and solid curve. Combine that with superb pitchability, and you have a prospect that doesn’t have enough tools to predict success, but too much performance to not consider the possibility. The upside is only the very back end of the rotation, but it remains a distinct possibility. Look for Milone to begin 2011 in AAA and potentially be the first pitcher called up should need arise.

Other Potential Top 300 Prospects – None

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 and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bryce Harper Comparables

Finding Comps for Harper is a Challenge

In preparation for tomorrow’s release of the Nationals, I was going over Bryce Harper’s comparables and decided to share the top 10 that our comparable player projection system produces. Because there is limited professional data for Harper, most of his comps are matched from phenotypical data elements and he is at the extreme tail of his comparison group range. In any regard, here they are:

10) Dimitri Young, STL, #4, 1991 – A switch-hitter, Young entered the 1991 prep season as the clear #1 prospect before pitcher, Brien Taylor, put together an unbelievable spring campaign to claim the top spot. Still the power-hitting third basemen was the unquestioned top prep hitter available. Young spent nearly five seasons in the Minors before making his Major League debut at age 22. He played 13 Major League seasons, belting 171 career home runs. Career WAR = 10.6.

9) Ron Blomberg, NYY, #1, 1967 – The Yankees selected Blomberg, who had been a power-hitting first baseman/pitcher in high school hoping to convert him to center field. Blomberg entered the draft as the consensus #1 prep hitter in the draft. He ended up primarily a corner outfield/first baseman, making it to the Majors at age 20 and playing a little over 220 games. Career WAR = 8.7.

8) Jeff Burroughs, WSH, #1, 1969 – The only right-hander on this list, perhaps the only player that could come close to matching the pre-draft expectations of Harper, Burroughs , who was called by Ted Williams the best 18yo hitter that he had ever seen, was perhaps a slightly more well-regarded overall hitter than Harper. While Burroughs was considered a future power hitter—but not to the level of Harper--his real hitting skills were on the contact side. Burroughs reached the Majors as a 19yo, won the 1974 MVP and played 16 Major League seasons, but still never likely reached the level of success that was expected from him. Career WAR = 17.2.

7)Eric Hosmer, KCR, #3, 2008 –
While Tim Beckham was the consensus overall #1 prep player in the 2008 draft, Hosmer was the draft’s best prep hitter. He got off to a slow start in his 2009 full-season debut, but bounced back in a big way this past season. So much so that he likely opens up 2011 as a consensus top ten prospect. Don’t expect his debut before 2012, but he is on track for a solid Major League career.

6) Lloyd Moseby, TOR, #2, 1978 –
Moseby was the draft’s best prep hitter and was taken immediately after Arizona State’s Bob Horner was selected by the Braves. After three solid Minor League seasons, Moseby made his debut as an outfielder with the Jays as a 20yo. Moseby played twelve solid seasons, almost exclusively with the Jays. Career WAR = 24.1.

5) Adrian Gonzalez, FLA, #1, 2000 –
Gonzalez was the top prep hitter in the 2000 draft, albeit a rather weak class—where signability was the word of the day. A first baseman viewed more as a contact hitter than a power hitter, the question with Gonzalez was whether he would ever provide enough power for the position. Four Minor League seasons did little to answer the question, as he never posted more than 17 home runs in any year before making his Major League debut finally at the age of 22yo. Seven Major League seasons, including winning the 2007 NL MVP seem to have answered the power question. While his career looks far from complete, he has accumulated a career WAR of 21.8.

4) Mike Moustakas, KCR, #2, 2007 –
Moustakas was the unquestioned #1 prep hitter in the 2007 draft, a huge power threat but of questionable defensive value. After a solid full-season debut, Moustakas had a disappointing 2009 campaign before coming back in a big way in the Texas League and PCL. Positioned to be the Royals everyday third baseman at some point in 2011, the Royals continue to have extremely high hopes for Moustakas.

3) Tyler Houston, ATL, #2, 1989 –
Houston was the first hitter selected in the 1989 draft, an offense first prep catcher. Six non-descript Minor League seasons made Houston pretty much an afterthought when he finally reached the Majors at the age of 25. Houston played parts of eight seasons in the Big Leagues. Career WAR = 0.1.

2) Al Chambers, SEA, #1, 1979 –
Chambers was a power hitting, athletically gifted prep first baseman, who was easily the #1 prospect entering the draft. After five solid, but unspectacular Minor League seasons, Chambers made his Minor League debut at age of 22. His Major League career was pretty much of a non-event, accumulating a negative Career WAR in the process.

1) Joe Mauer, MIN, #1, 2001 –
Most considered Mauer somewhat of a signability pick by the Twins in a draft where Mark Prior had received Stephen Strasburg like hype. The Twins are having the last laugh with this one, as Mauer made his Major League debut at the age of 21yo after four solid Minor League seasons and has become one of the games best players—winning the AL MVP in 2009. While his career is far from over, he has already accumulated a 38.7 Career WAR.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

TEAM #22 – Pittsburgh Pirates

Taillon is Just the Latest Example of the Pirates’ System Resurgence
Last year, we blasted the Pirates in this space for choosing quantity over quality in their ‘player for prospect’ deadline deals that they made in 2009. While, as we predicted, it was an effective salary dump, the only thing that it truly accomplished was ensuring that John Russell would get the axe. The 2010 Major League version of the Pirates was historically bad—that is saying quite a bit for this franchise. The Minor League system still ranks toward the bottom of the League, and the system thins out rapidly after #4 on this list, but that is pretty much where the negatives end.

On the Major League side their lineup is lead by budding superstar, 24yo, Andrew McCutchen. He is followed in the order by last year’s #2 prospect, 22yo, Jose Tabata. Following Tabata, coming off a surprising rookie season is, 25yo, Neil Walker. Finally, the clean-up hitter is, 23yo, Pedro Alvarez, who is on his way to becoming one of the games most feared power threats. Few teams can match their combination of youth and potential at the top of the lineup. A Minor League system that has ranked in the bottom third of the League—despite repeated early picks—for seven straight years now, finally looks to be turning the corner—especially after they make the #1 overall pick this June. The Pirates’ draft that suffered from incredibly bad picks and incredibly bad luck for most of this decade, looks to have finally put together a string of solid draft classes, with the 2010 class possibly their best yet. Perhaps the most encouraging sign is that a storied International scouting program that had been relatively barren for most of the middle part of this decade has put together three straight impressive signing classes—despite missing out on Miguel Sano in 2009.

Before we get too excited, tough, there is still likely a couple more years of misery remaining for Pirates’ fans; but give Neal Huntington his ‘props’. The turn-around has nearly perfectly coincided with his taking the reins. Turning around the Pirates that have been bad at an epic level will take time, but for the first time in a long time, things are looking up for the Bucs.

Best Pick from 2010 – We had Neil Walker at #9 last year. While that was significantly lower than the #3 or #4 that he probably should have been, it was considerably higher than anyone else, as we weren’t quite ready to throw in the towel on the former first round prospect. We were amply rewarded with a surprising Major League rookie performance.

Worst Pick from 2010 – We should have thrown in the towel on Tim Alderson, but instead we ranked him #3. Alderson’s mechanics are completely different from those that once made him an elite pitching prospect and his velocity hasn’t returned. We will be throwing in the towel this year.

Grade A

1) Jameson Taillon, RHP -

Taillon was the consensus #2 player in June’s draft and the Pirates executed the pick as they were supposed to. We acknowledge that the draft record of top prep right-handers is concerning. Over the last 25 years only twelve of them have been chosen among the first five picks. Of that group, only Kerry Wood, John Patterson, Josh Beckett and Gavin Floyd have achieved a Major League Career WAR of greater than 3.0. That is a lot of failure at a tremendous cost. With that on the table, Taillon is a better prospect than any of what we considered to be a solid 2009 prep pitching class (Matzek, Turner, Shelby, Wheeler, Skaggs). Taillon is a huge 6’5”, 223 lb beast on the mound. His fastball comfortably sits in the mid-90s with the ability to go higher. His curve is a potentially plus-plus offering. His slider isn’t far behind. Taillon is remarkably athletic, given his size, and takes instruction well. While relatively advanced, like many prep pitchers Taillon’s change is under-developed and he still has a tendency to get out of control every so often. His upside is that of one of the best power pitchers in the game, so Pirate fans have every reason to be excited. Taillon will get acclimated to the professional game in full-season A-ball in 2011. We expect he will remain there for most of the season.

Grade A-

2) Tony Sanchez, C (2010 Performance Scores – Power 67; Discipline 59; First Base Rate 73; Speed 36)

As regular readers will recall, we considered Sanchez to be an overdraft ‘signability’ pick when the Pirates selected him at #4 overall in 2009. While we haven’t changed our mind on that, Sanchez is developing along the upper limits of his curve. A broken jaw cost Sanchez a good portion of the 2010 season, but when he was healthy he demonstrated the solid, if unspectacular, offensive skills that have been his trademark since signing. Defensively, he is strong in both his catch and throw skills and his management of the game. Collectively, it adds up to a solid-average, starting Major League backstop—and that is nothing to yawn about. His AZFL return this fall was more of the same, which should put him on track for a AA assignment in 2011. He could be ready to take over the everyday duties in Pittsburgh by the beginning of 2012.

3) Stetson Allie, RHP -

Allie possesses some of the best raw ‘stuff’ of any prep pitcher available last June. We had him as a mid- to late- first round pick (the second best prep pitcher to sign) that lasted until the beginning of round two—where the Pirates were happy to select him. Like Taillon above, Allie is a big, durable, 6’4”, 225lb right-hander. His fastball can reach the high-90s, and his slider is a potential plus pitch. The downside is that Allie doesn’t command either of them all that well and is still more thrower than pitcher. When that is combined with the lack of a useful change, many feel that Allie will best be served as a power arm out of the bullpen. The Pirates will develop him in the rotation, where his ‘stuff’ is front of the rotation level. We would have likely graded him higher, but we believe he will eventually be forced into a relief role. Look for Allie to join Taillon in West Virginia in 2011, as part of one of the most interesting rotations in full-season A-ball.

Grade B+

4) Luis Heredia, RHP

Heredia was the Pirates big splash in the International market this year, as they signed the 16yo right-hander, out of Mexico, to a franchise record $2.4 million. At 6’6”, 185lb, there is projectability written all over him—which isn’t bad considering he is starting with a moving, low- to mid-90s fastball. Add to that a curveball that has plus potential, and a developing slider and change, and you have a remarkably polished package. His ceiling is tremendous—albeit quite a bit away. The Pirates are likely to have Heredia make his debut this summer in the GCL—around the time he turns 17yo. Rarely do we have 16yo pitchers rated so highly.

Grade B

5) Rudy Owens, LHP (2010– Dominance 64; Control 76; HRrate 59; Stamina 73)

There is a big gap in the organization between numbers four and five. Owens made significant strides in 2009, but really had a breakout campaign in 2010 as he posted the #3 Performance Score in the Eastern League (ESL). This wasn’t just a case of an improving skill set, but actual gains were made on a high-80s fastball that has now become a fringe-average offering. This adds to an already average curve and change—all of with which he demonstrates excellent control. Where Owens was once thought to be a longshot for a Big League opportunity, he now appears to be a strong bet for a back of the rotation chance. There is still not a tremendous upside here, but Owens is likely to begin 2011 in AAA with a shot at finding himself in Pittsburgh before the year is out.

6) Quincy Latimore, LF (2010– Power 76; Discipline 37; First Base Rate 31; Speed 76)

We are fairly certain that this is higher than you will find Latimore on any other list. Part of the reason that we place Latimore here is that he is one of the few remaining Pirate prospects with a significant ceiling and part is because we find a strong underlying power profile to take notice of. The Pirates fourth round choice from 2007, Latimore finished in our Pirate Top 30 last season and made significant improvements as a 21yo in the FSL in 2010, where he posted the circuit’s #7 Performance Score. The ‘What’s to like?’ is plus power potential and an above average speed combination, as Latimore put up 31 doubles and 19 home runs in 2010. His four professional seasons have been a steady progression that were buoyed this winter by an outstanding effort in the Australian Baseball League (yes we cover them all) where he posted a .997 OPS and the League’s #2 Performance Score. There is reason to believe that 2011 could see Latimore breakout in the ESL. While there are still plenty of questions surrounding him—a 24% strikeout rate, poor contact skills and limited defensive options among them—his upside is intriguing enough to place him ahead of a number of ‘non-descript’ prospects that comprise a large portion of the remainder of this list.

7) Colton Cain, LHP (2010– Dominance 63; Control 44; HRrate 45; Stamina 48)

A highly projectable right hander, Cain was the Pirates 8th round pick in 2009, whom they signed to late first round money. 2010 saw Cain post the #4 Performance Score in the New York-Penn League (NYP), as he used a low-90s fastball to strike out nearly a batter per inning. The downside is that Cain’s secondary offerings remain raw and he doesn’t demonstrate excess pitchability. While there is significant upside, Cain is far from a finished product. Look for him to get his first taste of full-season ball to begin 2011 where there is considerable work to be done in developing his arsenal.

8) Starling Marte, OF (2010– Power 40; Discipline 36; First Base Rate 51; Speed 76)

While Marte admittedly has ‘five-tool’ potential, it has yet to translate into anything resembling precocious performance. For that reason, we likely rate Marte slightly below most sources. He has not finished either of the last two seasons with Performance Scores in the top thirty of any league he has played in, and that just doesn’t bode well. Still the Pirates love his speed, contact skills, plus center field defense and upside, so he will get many chances to succeed. We look at that 25% strikeout rate and under developed power and question where the path exists for success to occur. In our opinion, it will be his defense that will have to carry him. Marte will begin 2011 in AA and will likely show no reason to promote him, but it may not matter.

9) Chase D’ Arnaud, SS (2010– Power 40; Discipline 58; First Base Rate 43; Speed 80)

D’Arnaud’s ‘renaissance’ skill set—does everything fairly well but nothing spectacular—caught up with him in 2010, as ESL pitchers held him to a .247 average and his lowest OPS as a professional. D’Arnaud has plus speed and above average skills as a middle infielder. Unfortunately, that is not a combination that is likely to get him a full time ‘gig’ at the next level. Any way that you examine it, D’Arnuad’s has the classic utility infielder profile—and one with limited offensive potential at that. Expect D’Arnaud to return to the ESL to begin 2011. He will turn 24yo next week and appears to be at least a year away—another strike against him.

10) Josh Harrison, 2B (2010– Power 36; Discipline 78; First Base Rate 57; Speed 76)

In Harrison, you have D’Arnuad with slightly lesser speed and lesser defense—although his hit tool is perhaps a notch better. While there isn’t significant upside here either, his profile suggests enough to make a Tony Graffanino type career a possibility. While he should return to the ESL in 2011, we won’t be surprised to see the Pirates move him to AAA. In either case, it is likely a make or break year for Harrison.

11) Bryan Morris, RHP (2010– Dominance 60; Control 64; HRrate 65; Stamina 68)

Health has been Morris’ biggest downfall since the Dodgers made him a first round pick in 2006. 2010 saw Morris exceed 100 innings in a season for the first time in his career, as he posted Top 30 Performance Scores in both the FSL and ESL. Morris possesses a low-90s fastball that has at times shown a few notches higher. He compliments it with a curve and slider, both of which look to be Big League offerings. His change is his biggest downfall—something that is reason enough to wonder whether he might be better suited for a relief role. For now, the Pirates will start Morris out in the rotation at AAA in 2011. Our guess is that he will get a Big League opportunity at some point during the year—the degree of success is the bigger question.

12) Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP (2010– Dominance 33; Control 68; HRrate 43; Stamina 68)

Von Rosenberg’s 6’5”, 205 lb frame likely draws as much attention as his pure ‘stuff’ does, as Scouts love his projectability. Where they have problems is in a fastball that is a high-80s offering. If he can add a few mph to it, Von Rosenberg has the potential to develop into a #2/#3 starter. Where we have problems is envisioning a pitcher that is already fairly polished, with a potentially Big League average curve and change, suddenly finding that added velocity. That said, he did post the #11 Performance Score in the NYP in 2010, the command rates a plus and we aren’t willing to overlook the projectability. Look for Von Rosenberg to get his first taste of full-season ball in 2011 in what may be a tremendous West Virginia rotation with Taillon, Allie and Cain.

Other Potential Top 300 Prospects – 13) Jeff Locke, LHP.

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 2010 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2010 season.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Team #23 - Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers are hoping that LSU's loss will be their gain

The Dodgers are by far the most difficult organization to grade/rank this year. While there is a lot of talent in the system, nearly every prospect comes with significant question marks that reduce the certainty side of the equation. That leads to a system where any of more than twenty prospects could make an argument to be included in the system’s top ten. This isn’t born so much out of strength as it is the uncertainty. Even choosing the #1 prospect was difficult, as we could make a solid case for any of our top three players. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to like, as the system is extremely deep through the ‘B’ Grade. There is a nice mix between high ceiling and high floor type players and a nice mix between players ready to contribute soon and players a few years away. Finally, there is tremendous depth among right-handed hurlers.

But there are also significant areas of concern. The Dodgers were once the biggest spender on the Latin American front, but haven’t signed a player of significance since 2008. The system had the reputation of working magic in their development of high school pitchers, but since Chad Billingsley in 2003, the Dodgers have taken pitchers in either the first or second round on twelve occasions and thus far have only Kershaw to show for it. Too many likely relief pitchers make up the upper tier of the organization’s prospects. Finally, a system that used to produce multi-tooled, high-ceiling, positional players like Matt Kemp, Carlos Santana and Josh Bell suddenly finds itself dotted with more of the Jerry Sands and Brian Cavazos-Galvez’s of the world. An honest appraisal of the system finds a lot of runners-up, but not many beauty contest winners. Our guess is that it won’t be long before Ned Colletti’s performance starts to attract the heat because this doesn’t appear to be a system on the upswing as the Dodgers’ rankings have fallen considerably over the last few seasons (TEAM #17 – Los Angeles Dodgers).

Best Pick from 2010 – Our best thing about our 2010 Dodger picks, is likely the continued note of caution that we have consistently sounded for two seasons now about Dee Gordon. We like him, we just find more warts than others do. We were pretty accurate in our 2010 write-up on Gordon, which bucked conventional wisdom at the time. Otherwise look at Jerry Sands at #18, which was higher than most last year or Jonathan Garcia who came in at #17.

Worst Pick from 2010 – Take your pick…we have struggled with this organization for two years now, continually disappointed by the organization’s top talent. Chris Withrow at #1 and Scott Elbert at #3 both look really poor in retrospect.

Grade A-

1) Zach Lee, RHP -

Lee is anointed top prospect in the system somewhat by default over a relief pitcher and a middle infielder with extremely little power. But that shouldn’t take anything away from the very athletic Lee. At 6’4”, 190lbs he oozes projection, and lasted until late in the first round because the industry was convinced he was attending LSU. It took the fourth highest bonus of the draft to change his mind. Lee already throws a mid-90s fastball and possesses a plus slider that should play well in the lower levels. If, however, he is to remain front of the rotation material, he will have to work on his extremely raw change. Even if it never develops, his fastball/slider combo would make him a devastating back of the bullpen option. Because Lee was a two sport athlete in high school, his baseball skills are not tremendously polished. Usually with a prospect of Lee’s stature we would expect him to debut in full-season A-ball. In this case, the Dodgers may hold him back for a few weeks in extended spring training.

2) Kenley Jansen, RP (2010 Performance Scores – Dominance 80; Control 24; HRrate 78; Stamina 27)

Jansen converted from catcher late in 2009 and has been turning heads ever since. 2010 saw Jansen begin the year in AA with 12 innings of Minor League pitching experience and saw him end it by fanning 41 in 27 Major League innings. The meteoric rise is primarily due to a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and can be a high 90s offering. His slider has gone from non-existent to what is now a potentially plus pitch. The downside is that Jansen throws with tremendous effort and rarely seems to know what it will end up—as 15 walks accompanied those strikeouts. At 23yo, and given his rawness, there is every reason to believe that Jansen can become a significant back of the bullpen force. He will be given every opportunity to earn a spot in the Dodger bullpen this spring.

3) Dee Gordon, SS (2010– Power 27; Discipline 65; First Base Rate 51; Speed 79)

Regular readers are familiar with the fact that we have been tugging on the reigns of excitement over Gordon for two seasons now, as the profile just doesn’t predict stardom. That said, there is enough of a ceiling here to remain very interested. After a 2010 campaign in which Gordon skipped over Hi-A and posted the #23 Performance Score in the Southern League (SOL), Gordon went to Puerto Rico and put up solid numbers for 22yo. First the positives…Gordon has game changing speed that could eventually be a disruptive force at the top of the order. He shows above average plate discipline and solid contact skills. Defensively he covers a lot of ground and possesses a strong arm. The negatives lie in his size and location on the development curve. At 5’11”, 150lbs and turning 23yo during the first month of the season, there isn’t a ton of additional offensive projection. If he were to be able to bulk up and get to even a slightly below average power level it would likely come at the expense of his speed. We are talking about a player with 7 career home runs in more than 1600 PA’s (and only 50 doubles). That is a Juan Pierre like offensive profile. Don’t get us wrong, Gordon will very likely get a Major League shot—perhaps even sometime in 2011, but we don’t expect a lot with the bat.

Grade B+

4) Jerry Sands, 1B (2010– Power 80; Discipline 44; First Base Rate 58; Speed 58)

The hardest part about evaluating Sands, has been the Dodgers reluctance to have him face age appropriate competition. We wrote in last year’s guide that we would love to see the Dodgers jump him to Hi-A to begin 2010. But alas, as has been their wont, Sands began 2010 in the Midwest League (MWL) where he once again dominated inferior talent on his way to the League’s #6 Performance Score. Finally, in the second half things changed and Sands was skipped to the SOL where he was finally almost age appropriate. Sands posted the #5 Score there, before getting his most difficult challenge to date in the AZFL this fall. At least now we feel we can get a more accurate read on him. Sands is all about power—significant power. A surprisingly decent athlete, given his 6’4”, 225lb frame, Sands has the ability to create more value if he can prove that he can handle left field. With decent contact skills, his only weakness—outside of his position—is the propensity to chase breaking balls—something that was on display this fall. But he counteracts a 21% strikeout rate with reasonable plate patience. With the upside of a power hitting left fielder, Sands will finally be on everyone’s radar screen. The bat should be at least minimally playable as an everyday 1B/LF.

5) Jonathan Garcia, RF (2010– Power 74; Discipline 46; First Base Rate 37; Speed 50)

While others are enamored with ‘toolsy’ Trayvon Robinson, Garcia is our ‘toolsy’ Dodger outfielder of interest. An 8th round steal in the 2009 draft, Garcia is ‘sculpted’ like a prototypical power-hitting right fielder. Plus power is his top skill, but defensively he has the range of a center fielder and the arm of a third baseman. After a solid 2009 rookie league debut, the Dodgers sent the 18yo to the Pioneer League (PIO), in 2010, where he became the circuit’s third youngest position player, posting the #3 Performance Score while there. His only weakness is his overly aggressive plate approach that led to him fanning in 23% of his PAs. We doubt many will regard Garcia this highly, but this is the type of profile that we look for when uncovering ‘hidden gems’. Expect Garcia to begin 2011 with his first taste of full-season ball and expect everyone else to be discussing him this time next year.

Grade B

6) Trayvon Robinson, OF (2010– Power 49; Discipline 30; First Base Rate 75; Speed 77)

We truly wish we could get more excited about Robinson, but that nagging 25% strikeout rate that continues to increase just doesn’t allow it. It would be one thing to carry that type of offensive aggressiveness with you if you had plus power, but Robinson is a player that tops out at average power for even center field. Speed remains Robinson’s most potent weapon, although he makes solid contact and will take a walk—all of which should play well at the top of a batting order. Defensively, he plays a solid center field and should remain there. Robinson’s ‘tool set’ will get him an opportunity at the next level. For us, his lack of baseball instincts pose a problem and our expectation is that his weaknesses will be exploited by more advanced pitchers. Nonetheless, 2011 will find him in AAA to begin the year, with an appearance in Los Angeles at some point likely.

7) Chris Withrow, RHP (2010– Dominance 52; Control 32; HRrate 37; Stamina 66)

After topping this list in 2010, Withrow began the season by not being able to locate the plate. This led to adjustments with his mechanics, that resulted in his once mid-90s fastball becoming barely a low-90s offering. The scene seems eerily reminiscent of former Giants’ prospect Tim Alderson. Before we go writing him off though, there are a couple of points to remember: 1) Withrow played 2010 as a 21yo in AA and 2) there appears to be little, physically, that should prevent him from returning to mechanics that had produced significant success prior to entering this season. There is too much talent here to give up, so just write off the 2010season and monitor Withrow closely this year. Hopefully the Dodgers will return him to the SOL to begin 2011.

8) Allen Webster, RHP (2010– Dominance 46; Control 48; HRrate 67; Stamina 71)

Despite posting a top twenty Performance Score in the MWL during his 20yo season, Webster is a relatively low ceiling type of prospect. Lacking a true out-pitch, and possessing limited future projectability, Webster is unlikely to become much different from what we see right now. That said, what we see is an unbelievably polished product for a pitcher that was an 18th round draft pick and is only 20yo. Webster offers a low-90s fastball; that plays up due to his plus change. His curve is an average offering and he commands all of these pitches well enough to use them at any point. He wisely keeps the ball down—something that will likely further improve as he moves forward. All of it points to the makings of a solid #3/#4 Big League starter. While we aren’t overly enamored with Webster, his certainty scores appear to be high. Look for Webster to begin 2011 in Hi-A.

9) Rubby De La Rosa, RHP (2010– Dominance 50; Control 55; HRrate 69; Stamina 72)

De La Rosa would rate higher if we believed in his ability to develop his secondary offerings enough to remain in the rotation. Though he possesses a ‘jumping’, mid-90s fastball—one that could be a high-90s offering in relief—his weak curve and non-existent change make it hard to project De La Rosa as anything other than a relief pitcher. If he can’t improve at least one of his secondary offerings, it is even difficult to imagine success in that role. That said, you can’t teach velocity and De La Rosa has that with some to spare. The 21yo used it to post the #4 Performance Score in the SOL in 2010, and he’ll likely get a chance to improve upon it in 2011 because he is almost certainly headed there for a return engagement to work on the secondary pitches. While we would be remiss to discount his ability to remain in the rotation completely, it doesn’t appear likely.

10) Ethan Martin, RHP (2010– Dominance 47; Control 21; HRrate 52; Stamina 63)

Martin was a two-way player in high school, whom most industry observers believed was better suited for the mound and believed that the Dodgers were the ideal destination for him in which to successfully transition to a full-time starter. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone as drawn up. In 2010, all of his raw talents deserted him, and he appeared to be lost mechanically, as his 6.5 BB/ 9 IP was disastrous. The pure stuff still exists, and we are willing to write off the season and give him a mulligan. That said, 2011 becomes critical—as a repeat performance may leave the Dodgers considering a return to third base for him. Expect him to move up to AA so that he can cleanse his 2010 experience.

11) Garrett Gould, RHP (2010– Dominance 44; Control 50; HRrate 58; Stamina 66)

We had higher expectations for Gould in 2010 than he was able to deliver on. That said, he did post the #4 Performance Score in the Pioneer League (PIO). At 6’4”, 190lbs, the ‘beefy’ Gould should still add a couple of ticks to his low-90s fastball. He combines that with a curve that is a potential plus offering. Ultimately, however, his success will be determined by the development of his change—as it remains a raw offering. Only 19yo, Gould has the upside of a #2 workhorse. We would like to see more progress when he moves to full-season ball in 2011 and should have a better read on him this time next year.

12) Ivan DeJesus, SS (2010– Power 34; Discipline 65; First Base Rate 38; Speed 62)

DeJesus appeared poised to make his Big League debut in 2009, before a broken leg in spring training caused him to miss the bulk of the season. Coming back in 2010, DeJesus appeared to be a step slower defensively than his pre-injury level and offensively he never really got on track. While he didn’t light things up in the AZFL, this past fall, he did show enough for us to believe that 2011 will see a return to pre-injury form. While his speed and defense are merely average for the shortstop position, DeJesus’ plate discipline and ability to get on base are above average skills. Ideally, we can envision him as a solid Major League #2 hitter at either of the middle infield positions (above average offensively for the position). He may end up as merely a backup, but in either case, he appears destined to play at the next level. Look for him to return to AAA to begin 2011, but he is Big League ready.

Other Potential Top 300 Prospects

13) Aaron Miller, LHP; 14) Leon Landry, OF; 15) Scott Elbert, LHP; 16) Javier Solano, RHP; 17) Angelo Songco, OF.

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 and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

TEAM #24 – Houston Astros

There is a huge gap between Lyles and the rest of the Astros Prospects

While coming in at #24 for a lot of teams would be considered a major disappointment, when you have been at the bottom for as long as the Astros have ( TEAM #27 – Houston Astros )#24 is cause for celebration. Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. The organization remains scarily thin at the top, as the gap between #1 and #2 is probably as big as just about any team in the league. Looking for a potential left-handed starter—not here. The Astros do not have a left-handed starting pitcher prospect in their Top 20. Additionally, we’ve spoken at length about the failed strategy of drafting raw, underdeveloped, ‘toolsy’ ‘athletes’ with an accent on speed. The Astros have rapidly replaced the Phillies as the poster child for this failed strategy. Not that DeShields was a horrible pick, but he was a significant overdraft at the #8 slot.

Now to the positive, few teams, this decade, could match the draft futility experienced by the Astros under Gary Hunsicker/Tim Purpura (and Scouting Directors Paul Ricciarini and David Lakey). Save for 2004, second rounder, Hunter Pence, the draft record was abysmal. One need to look no further than here to find out why the Astros have been at the bottom of these rankings for so long. Mercifully, Ed Wade and Bobby Heck were brought in, in 2008, and have begun the long slow climb back to respectability. Their first pick, Jason Castro, made his Major League debut in 2010, and their second pick, Jordan Lyles, tops this year’s list. Don’t get us wrong, they haven’t completely turned things around yet, but the signs of progress are apparent in a multitude of areas. One of the most obvious of these is in their emphasis on Latin American talent, and they made the franchises’ most historic signing in this area when they inked Dominican Outfielder Ariel Ovando to a $2.55 million deal this summer. While the organization still lacks the quality ‘can’t miss’ ‘high-ceiling’ prospects at the top of the organization, there is a reasonable amount of depth throughout the rest of the system to provide cause for optimism. Expect the Astros to continue to climb these rankings for the next couple of seasons.

Best Pick from 2010 – For us this was easy, as our selection of Altuve at #10 not only was ahead of the curve, but was dead-on accurate. More below on Altuve’s future, but the Lexington fans witnessed everything we predicted.

Worst Pick from 2010 – Some people may say this should be our selection of Mier at #1, but we haven’t given up on him yet. The honor here goes to our selection of Chia-Jen Lo at #6, who was shut down at the end of April with an elbow injury. T.J. Steele at #11 was another serious consideration here, as he was badly exposed in the Texas League in 2010 and isn’t likely to show enough hit skills to play at the next level.

Grade A

1) Jordan Lyles, RHP (2010 Performance Scores– Dominance 50; Control 63; HRrate 55; Stamina 74)

The Astros blind-sided the baseball world when they selected Lyles with their sandwich round pick in 2008. They have been saying “I told you so” ever since. 2010 saw Lyles earn the Top Performance Score in the Texas League (TXL) and debut in AAA before his twentieth birthday. While Lyles lacks an overpowering fastball (his is a low-90s offering), he has a plus change and a solid curve—all of with which he demonstrates excellent command. While he is likely never going to be much more than a solid Major League #2/#3, he looks like a strong bet to get there. Lyles is still young and will likely get at least one-half season in AAA before the Astros consider bringing him to Houston. That said, it is likely that he debuts sometime in 2011.

Grade B+

2) Delino DeShields, OF (2010– Power 42; Discipline 37; First Base Rate 63; Speed 65)

We weren’t surprised that someone would draft DeShields in the first round. In fact we were fairly certain that someone would—despite that we had him rated #40 on our board. But we have to admit to being more than a little surprised that he went off the board at #8. With a Big League pedigree and appearing on the scouting radar since junior high, DeShields was perhaps the most athletic prep player considered in the first three rounds. Speed is his major asset, although he makes decent contact and projects to have potentially average power. Defensively, he makes up for marginal fundamentals with his blazing speed that provides him with excellent range. Not prototypical for either, he should be playable in either center field or second base. His father makes a very solid comp for him. While there are those that will likely try to convince you that his ceiling is higher, DeShields is unlikely to ever possess the hit tool that will make him more than an average hitter with excellent speed. He could develop into a true top of the order offensive catalyst, but the likelihood is something short of that. Look for DeShields to begin 2011 in the South Atlantic League (SAL).

3) Jio Mier, SS (2010– Power 37; Discipline 54; First Base Rate 64; Speed 62)

After a blistering Appalachian League debut after being drafted in 2009, Mier didn’t quite live up to expectations in his full-season debut in 2010, posting a top thirty Performance Score in the SAL—a few notches below, now teammate, Jonathan Villar. There are many in the organization that prefer Villar to Mier, which should create an interesting dynamic. We are not among those. Mier played the 2010 season as a 19yo in full-season ball and held his own. He shows excellent plate discipline skills, good contact skills and average speed for the shortstop position. Defensively, although he struggled a bit in 2010, he has plus defender skills. We are encouraged by the upward projectability in his power tool, as his 6’2” frame should carry 25lbs more than he ended the season at. The Astros will have to figure out a way to separate Villar and Mier to get them both regular playing time. Judging by 2010, this may mean Mier returns to the SAL or that Villar plays at AA. We would take the conservative path and allow both players to taste a fair amount of success, but it will be interesting to see how the Astros handle it.

4) Austin Wates, OF (2010– Power 68; Discipline 69; First Base Rate 79; Speed 79)

We actually had Wates graded within five spots of DeShields prior to the draft, and the Astros were able to wait until the third round to grab him. Another in the athletic mold, Wates scores much higher than DeShields on the certainty scale. For us, Wates is a true center fielder that has plus speed, solid contact skills, good plate discipline and average power. He closed his collegiate career by posting a Top 25 Performance Score last spring. While we don’t expect him to be a superstar, his ceiling is that of an above average offensive center fielder. Wates is already fairly polished and was obviously more advanced than his competition in his brief New York-Penn (NYP) debut. For that reason, we expect Wates to begin 2011 in the California (CAL) League. It would not surprise us to see him in Houston sometime in 2012.

Grade B

5) Michael Foltynewicz, RHP (2010 – Dominance 44; Control 44; HRrate 52; Stamina 55)

We had Foltynewicz projected as a sandwich round selection, prior to this past June’s draft. The Astros instead selected him with their second first round pick (19th overall). At 6’4”, Foltnewicz has additional projection left on a fastball that is already a low- to mid-90s offering. With a plus change already in his arsenal, the Astros see him as being only a solid breaking ball away from front of the rotation potential. The Astros felt strongly enough to debut him in the Appalachian League after signing last summer. He was able to make twelve starts and posted the League’s #10 Performance Score. Although he struggled in his first couple of professional outings, in his final nine starts he posted a 3.15 ERA with a 36:10 K:BB ratio over 40 innings. Look for Foltynewicz to begin 2011 in the SAL.

6) Ariel Ovando, RF –

We had Ovando rated as the #7 Latin American 16yo prior to the July signing date. We were a bit surprised that the Astros aggressively went after him with a bonus that was topped only, thus far, by Seattle’s signing of Peguero and Toronto’s signing of Cardona. That said, Ovando has an advanced bat, with excellent power. Defensively, he projects to be an adequate right fielder as his 6’4” frame fills out. The organization was impressed with his performance in instructional league and will likely start him in the Gulf Coast League, in 2011, after extended Spring Training. There is a huge ceiling here—perhaps the tops of any position player in the system, but it is likely quite a few years before attaining it.

7) Jose Altuve, 2B (2010– Power 60; Discipline 74; First Base Rate 65; Speed 69)

As much as we have been leading the Altuve band wagon for the last couple of season’s now, it is important to frame him in the proper perspective. Our projection methods utilize a comparative player methodology. Altuve stands all of 5’5”, 148lbs. During the last 60 years only three players under 5’6” have accumulated 200 or more Major League At Bats, and only Freddie Patek had a distinguished career. None of the diminutive players, or players that possess in a reasonably similar phenotype, in our extensive database has ever posted the #1, #3, #2, #3 and #6 Performance Scores that Altuve has over the last four seasons. My point is that we are operating in uncharted territory here when it comes to projecting Altuve. None of his skills, excepting phenomenal strike zone management skills rate above average. Although he has consistently posted mid .400 SLG numbers throughout his career, there is little reason to believe that he can generate much in the way of power at the Major League level. That said, in 2011 we can have a serious conversation about what he will be capable of producing at the Major League level, whereas we were laughed at when we brought him to people’s attention in 2009. The scouting community will root for him to fail, as they have been adamant in their belief that he can’t succeed. We don’t know, but we wouldn’t bet against him. Our best guess is that Altuve ends up becoming the 4th player under 5’6” to accumulate 200 At Bats, as he knocks around for a few seasons as a utility infielder. He’ll begin 2011 back in the California League, but will likely see AA by mid-season.

8) J.D. Martinez, OF (2010– Power 65; Discipline 61; First Base Rate 71; Speed 42)

We aren’t as high on the 2010 SAL MVP as some, as he has posted some gaudy numbers since being a late round selection in 2009, but has only managed Performance Scores of #17, #11 and #39. We tend to discount the numbers that a nearly 23yo puts up in lo-A ball and believe what we witnessed in the TXL last summer is probably closer to reality. If it sounds like we are Martinez bashing—think again. There is probably 15-20 homerun potential with a .340 OBP here. Our concern is that Martinez is likely to be stuck as an outfield corner—more unfortunately in left field. This makes him, at best, a below average everyday player. While that may be good value for a 20th round draft pick, it isn’t the type of talent that will turn the organization around. Look for Martinez to return to the TXL to begin the 2011 season. A strong showing could earn him a September call-up.

9) Jonathan Villar, SS (2010– Power 38; Discipline 26; First Base Rate 48; Speed 75)

Villar is another player that the organization appears to be higher on then we are, as they have seemingly vaulted him past Mier in the system’s depth chart. That is likely due to that whole ‘toolsy’, ‘athletic’ thing that we described earlier. Speed is his only above average offensive skill, but it is of the plus-plus variety. Defensively, he is fundamentally raw, but he has a cannon for an arm that makes up for a lot of mistakes. In time he could develop into a plus-plus shortstop defender. On the downside, his power is nearly non-existent and isn’t likely to develop much. He has never met a pitch he doesn’t like and fans more than 28% of the time (way too much given his lack of power). Of his hit skills, only contact looks to be an average skill. This has produced Performance Scores of #36, #16, #21 and #38 in his four professional stops. Don’t get us wrong, it isn’t that Villar is without tremendous ceiling, it is just that the probabilities for players with his profile are not strong. As we described earlier, the Astros have a bit of a dilemma with Villar and Mier being at similar developmental stages. They will have to be separated and Villar is likely to be given the more advanced assignment. For his sake, our hope is that it is in a return trip to the CAL, as TXL pitchers will feast on him.

10) Jimmy Paredes, 2B (2010– Power 53; Discipline 61; First Base Rate 47; Speed 80)

Although Paredes likely ranks higher here than on most lists, we would have liked to rank him higher but can’t seem to figure out his defensive destination. Paredes was the key acquisition in the deal that sent Berkman to the Yankees. He followed up the 2009 season where he posted the #16 Performance Score in the NYP, with a top forty score in the SAL in 2010. Like Villar above, Paredes is a ‘toolsy’, ‘athletic’ prospect with plus-plus speed. Paredes possesses more raw power and raw speed, as well as better plate discipline, than does Villar. Unlike Villar, we aren’t quite sure with what to do with him defensively. Paredes possesses the arm and quickness to play either of the left-side positions in the infield. However, his footwork is fundamentally flawed, and his raw approach leads to significant mental lapses. Currently he is playing second base, but if he can’t get the defense figured out he may have to move to the outfield—resulting in a significant downgrade. The Astros are seemingly loaded with this prospect profile—for better or for worse. Look for Paredes to join either Villar or Mier in the CAL in 2011.

11) Tanner Bushue, RHP (2010 – Dominance 45; Control 46; HRrate 21; Stamina 72)

Consider him to be a slightly lesser version of Foltynewicz—right down to his Illinois roots. Bushue was the Astros second round pick in 2009, a two sport athlete in high school. With a solid projectable 6’4” frame, Bushue has a 90mph fastball that could become a low-90s offering in time. Bushue is the more athletic of the two, and also possesses the better secondary offerings. He managed to post a Top 20 Performance Score in the SAL in 2010. The downside…Bushue’s fastball regressed a bit in 2010 from his prep days. More concerning is Bushue’s tendency to pitch up in the zone, which yielded a 0.79 GO/AO ratio in 2010. From a ceiling standpoint, he appears to be little more than #3/#4 starter potential—possibly less. The Astros have skipped some of the better arms over the CAL in the past. We don’t believe that Bushue is polished enough to make the jump to AA, so expect him to have a difficult challenge at Lexington in 2011.

12) Telvin Nash, LF/1B (2010– Power 79; Discipline 26; First Base Rate 49; Speed 33)

As we wrote last year about Nash, he is a one-tool guy, but that tool is exceptional raw power. Nash demonstrated that in 2010, as he posted a .531 SLG while belting 13 HRs in just over 200 At Bats, propelling him to the #9 Performance Score in the APY. Nash possesses decent contact skills and near base-clogging speed. However, success or failure for prospects like Nash is often determined by their ability to manage the strike zone. While Nash will take the occasional walk, his 30% strikeout rate is cause for concern. The Astros have been trying Nash in LF. We don’t believe his defense will allow him to be anything more than a first baseman, so his bat will have to carry him. The profile is full of down-side risk, but the ceiling here is substantial. Expect Nash to get his first taste of full season ball in 2011.

Other Potential Top 300 Prospects – None.

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 and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

TEAM #25 – Detroit Tigers

Turner is an easy choice as the Tigers #1

Seven of the Tigers’ top twelve prospects were signed since June of 2009. That gives you an idea of how bare the cupboard had been prior to then. While the Tigers are inching their way up (TEAM #28 – Detroit Tigers), having 2010’s #2 prospect, Casey Crosby, miss virtually the entire season due to injury hasn’t allowed any major improvements over last year. While the top of the Tigers’ list is relatively league average to slightly below through the ‘B’ grades, it thins out considerably in the area where we typically hope to find growth/development for next year—meaning the Tigers likely remain two years away from seeing tremendous improvement from their bottom third placement over the last few years. But there are some positive signs. Start with the very aggressive signing of Venezuelan slugger Danry Vazquez that hopefully signals a resurgence in Latin American player development. For years, the Tigers have worked Venezuela as hard as anyone, but their international yield from 2008 and 2009 was virtually non-existent. The Vazquez signing should be a signal that the Tigers intend to remain a major force in the region. Perhaps the Tigers' biggest offseason move was adding Eddie Bane to their scouting staff. Bane had tremendous success with the Angels--prior to his surprising dismissal. Another important signal that things may be looking upward is that in the 2010 list more than 20% of their top thirty prospects were relief pitchers. In this year’s list that number has dropped to under 15% and only one of the top twelve. That said, with Oliver, Schlereth and Weinhardt all appearing to be ready to contribute in 2011, the Tigers should have one of the deeper pitching staffs in the American League.

Once you get past Turner and Castellanos, the Tigers don’t have much in the way of potential stars on this list, but there is an intriguing mix of players in the Brennan Boesch, ‘low-ceiling’, mold (especially pitchers) that should contribute at the next level and players like Francisco Martinez/Avisail Garcia who have the potential to take significant leaps forward with minor improvements to the game. It should provide optimism that at least the arrow is pointing in the right direction.

Best Pick from 2010 – These two categories are difficult because our list didn’t vary much from industry consensus for the Tigers. We did have Brennan Boesch rated higher than most at #15—although he probably should have been higher still, so we will go with our selection of Avisail Garcia at #12—who is likely to be in everyone’s Tiger Top 10 this year.

Worst Pick from 2010 – Not that we were alone but, not having Francisco Martinez in our Tiger Top 50 was a big miss. Rarely does a player come from that far off of our radar and jump into the following year’s Top 5.

Grade A

1) Jacob Turner, RHP (2010 Performance Scores– Dominance 52; Control 70; HRrate 52; Stamina 67)

For us, Turner was unquestionably the top prep right-hander available in the 2009 draft, so the fact that he was only the third one chosen on draft day should have the Tigers feeling pretty good that he was still available when their pick came up at #9. That said, because of our lofty expectations, his 8.0 K/9 IP through two stops in full-season leagues—as a 19yo—almost felt like a disappointment. It shouldn’t, as Turner earned the #2 Performance Score with his 10 starts in the Midwest League (MWL) and the #3 Performance Score in 13 Florida State League (FSL) starts and remains one of the top pitching prospects in the Minors. With a powerful 6’5”, 210 lb frame; a heavy, mid-90s fastball; a potentially plus curve; and advanced repertoire control; Turner possesses all the ingredients to be a significant top of the rotation force for years. While power, prep right-handers are not the safest of bets, Turner appears to be a special one. The Tigers are likely to return Turner to the FSL for a few starts before moving him up to AA—possibly before he turns 20yo. As the Tigers have demonstrated with Rick Porcello, they are not afraid to be aggressive with young pitchers. We don’t expect to see him in Detroit before mid-2012, but we will be surprised if it is much after that.

Grade A-

2) Nick Castellanos, 3B

We had Castellanos as a mid-first round selection this past June, so getting him in the sandwich round is a bit of a steal for the Tigers—if you can call $3.45 million (the 5th highest 2010 draft bonus) a steal. Castellanos possesses plus power, solid contact skills and average speed. Defensively, he was a shortstop in high school who should have little problems moving to third—although he will likely never be more than an average defender. If there is a weakness, it is that his swing can get a bit long, creating the possibilty that he will be vulnerable to better pitching as he progresses. Castellanos is headed for the MWL in 2011. His ceiling is that of an above average offensive everyday third baseman—although it is likely to be a few years before he realizes it.

Grade B+

3) Andrew Oliver, LHP (2010– Dominance 60; Control 44; HRrate 47; Stamina 72)

With his disputes with the NCAA a thing of the past, Oliver had a chance to focus purely on baseball in 2010. The results were a #14 Performance Score in the ESL for the 23yo. Oliver held his low- to mid-90s velocity deep into games, and had a chance to work on his underdeveloped secondary offerings. While not an eye-opening display, it certainly was enough to convince the Tigers that he belongs in the rotation instead of the bullpen, and that is where he will likely be in AAA in 2011. While a solid mid-rotation starter is his upside, we still have concerns as to how effective he will be in the rotation and don’t rule out an eventual bull pen role. Oliver still needs work on the secondary offerings, so we don’t expect to see him in Detroit until later this summer.

4) Francisco Martinez, 3B (2010– Power 39; Discipline 55; First Base Rate 56; Speed 64)

Every year there are a handful of players that totally catch you off guard. Martinez was one of those for us this year, as, despite a Top 10 Performance Score in the VSL in 2008, few players have succeeded from his 40th ranked score in the GCL and that placed him outside of our ‘C’ grade range in 2009. Shame on us. Playing the entire season as a 19yo, Martinez moved from the GCL where he posted a .576 OPS to the FSL where he flirted with a .700 OPS for much of the year. The result was the circuit’s #8 Performance Score. Don’t mistake us, Martinez still doesn’t possess the power that you would like to find in a third baseman, but he has solid plate discipline, above average contact skills and above average speed. Defensively he has the requisite tools, but is fundamentally extremely raw. In an organization that weakens considerably at this point, Martinez is a high-ceiling type that could eventually be an above average offensive third baseman. While the Tigers may be tempted to move Martinez to Erie to open up the 2011 season, we hope they show a bit more patience as Martinez needs at least one-half season to catch his breath.

Grade B

5) Casey Crosby, LHP

Crosby was our #2 ranked prospect on last year’s Tiger’s list, but made just three starts in 2010, as he battled elbow pain most of the season. It becomes a bigger concern when considering he has thrown just 121 innings since being drafted in 2007. We could spend some space describing what Crosby looks like when things are right, but we did that in last year’s edition and quite frankly we no longer know what ‘right’ is going to look like with Crosby. His upside is too significant to dismiss, but 2011 will be a critical year for the now 23yo.

6) Daniel Fields, OF (2010– Power 53; Discipline 25; First Base Rate 61; Speed 40)

The Tigers drafted Fields in the 6th round of the 2009 draft and then proceeded to sign him to mid-first round money. As has been their want recently with high draft choices, the Tigers made his 2010 assignment a challenging one, sending the 19yo to the FSL where he finished with the circuit’s #17 Performance Score. A gifted athlete, Fields has plus power with average speed and contact skills. Defensively, Fields is a converted shortstop who showed promise in center field at Lakeland. On the downside, Fields lacks patience at the plate, fanning 28% of the time—a number that will have to come down as he develops. Although he had over 400 PAs in the FSL in 2010, Fields should return there to begin the 2011 season. Like Francisco Martinez above, there is a significant ceiling with Fields; but much work remains if he is to reach it.

7) Avisail Garcia, RF (2010– Power 31; Discipline 53; First Base Rate 53; Speed 78)

Garcia is one of the organization’s few true potential five-tool prospects. We became interested in Garcia after his 2008 debut in the Venezuelan Summer League where he earned the circuit’s #3 Performance Score . A solid 2009 performance in the MWL earned him the #12 place on last year’s Tiger’s prospect list. A return trip to the MWL in 2010 resulted in a Top 20 Performance Score. Still, Garcia has yet to tap into his enormous potential. With plus speed, Garcia uses an attacking style at the plate where he puts punishing strokes on the ball. While his power has yet to show itself, given his stroke and his 6’4”, 225lb, frame there is little reason to doubt that it won’t come in time. While Garcia lacks the patience to take many walks, the 19yo’s strikeout rate in 2010 was only 22%--an amazing number if you witness his swings. Garcia may possess the highest ceiling of any position player in the system. But, it isn’t all positive, as his overaggressive approach frequently results in fundamental mistakes. In time, providing things go right, he could develop into a massive offensive right fielder. The Tigers will send him to the FSL in 2011 and it wouldn’t surprise us if he takes a substantial leap forward. However, as a baseball player, Garcia remains extremely raw.

8) Chance Ruffin, RHP -

We had Ruffin tabbed as a second round pick this past June, but the Tigers took a ‘Chance’ picking him in the sandwich round (okay…you weren’t expecting good comedy for this price…were you?) After two seasons, where he performed reasonably well in the Longhorn rotation, Ruffin became their closer this season and made a significant leap forward. Coming out of the pen, his fringe-average fastball became a solid offering; but it his slider that is his swing and miss pitch. With developable pitches in both his curve and change, we wouldn’t be giving up on Ruffin as a starter. We have expressed many times the downgrade that is experienced converting to a purely bullpen arm while in the Minors. Unfortunately, the current plan is to keep Ruffin in the bullpen. While we could envision Ruffin as a potentially solid #3/#4 starter, we don’t expect much more than a setup- type reliever if the Tigers continue with the current plan. His AZFL appearance this fall was solid, so we expect Ruffin to debut in 2011 in the ESL. He could be in Detroit before the season’s end.

9) Daniel Schlereth, LHP (2010– Dominance 74; Control 21; HRrate 78; Stamina 28)

Schlereth continues to possess a devastating fastball/curve combination and continues to lack the command of it that would make it possible to realize success with it. While there exists little doubt that he will get an opportunity, there is considerable doubt as to whether he reaches his ceiling as a lights out closer, or is relegated to an 8th inning setup role. A BB/9IP ratio of nearly 6.0 doesn’t make it appear that the closer role will be his anytime soon. Schlereth will have every opportunity and expectation to be a part of the Tiger bullpen when they break camp this spring.

10) Drew Smyly, LHP

We had Smyly as an early third round pick prior to Detroit’s making him their second round pick this past June—where they paid him first round money. There is little to love and very little to hate with him. While his fastball is a fringe-average offering, he commands well a four pitch repertoire. With advanced pitchability, the 21yo could move through the system rapidly. However, if he does, the Tigers are unlikely to get more than a solid #3/#4 starter. With a similar upside as Ruffin, the difference between them lies in Ruffin’s plus-plus slider. Look for Smyly to open the 2011 season in the FSL.

11) Josue Carreno, RHP (2010– Dominance 49; Control 30; HRrate 36; Stamina 68)

Carreno came into the 2010 season on the heels of #2 and #4 Performance Scores in consecutive VSL seasons. He topped that by posting the #3 score in the New York-Penn League in his stateside debut. Only 19yo, Carreno has a low 90s fastball to go with a solid curve and developing change. His 6’1”, 170lb, frame still possesses some projection. The downside is that Carreno struggles with command at times, and has a tendency to leave the ball up in the zone more than we would like. This appears to be a control issue, however, as he does induce a significant number of ground outs. Carreno’s ceiling is that of a solid mid-rotation starter. He will take his game to full-season ball in 2011 where we would expect him to garner more attention than he has thus far.

Grade B-

12) Danry Vazquez, RF -

One of the more advanced hitters to come out of Latin America this summer, Vazquez possesses a powerful 6’2, 170lb, build that should project to plus power. With solid speed and a good arm, the Tigers hope that Vazquez will be able to play RF. He already possesses solid contact skills that allow him to hit with authority to all fields. While still possessing a relatively aggressive plate approach, he shows better plate discipline than the typical Latin American 16yo. While most of the Tiger’s signings out of Venezuela have played at least one summer in the VSL, it will be interesting to see if Vazquez debuts in the GCL. A huge upside here, but tremendously far off.

Other Potential Top 300 Prospects – None

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 and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.