Spikes Up Fifth Annual Top 40 Prospects
Anyone who watched David Price in the ALCS or World Series last season knows that he’s ready to help your fantasy team.
Spikes Up, our exclusive baseball column, is pleased to unveil the fifth annual Spikes Up Top 40 Prospects List, once again beefed up from last year’s version.
This season, a dozen players are back from the 2008 rankings, while another 18 (just over half of last year’s list) have graduated to the major leagues. Five players slipped out of the rankings, a slight increase from the past couple of seasons.
1. Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore Orioles: Wieters, who tied for 24th on our list last season, shot all the way to the top of the charts this year, and small wonder he did. A switch-hitting catcher with prodigious power and the ability to hit for an extremely high average? Uh, wow. Baltimore brought in Gregg Zaun as a placeholder and plans to start Wieters out in the minors for a couple of months, but that didn’t stop us from deciding he’ll still be the top rookie this year. Overhyped? Yeah, probably, especially when considering how high he’s getting drafted this year, but Wieters has future clean-up hitter written all over him.
2. David Price, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays: Price, another veteran of our 2008 prospect list (he was tied for 20th last year), is also expected to have a fantasy presence this year. The former Vanderbilt star provided a glimpse of what he’s capable of with his late-season and playoff exploits for the Rays in 2008. Imagine 200+ innings of that once this kid is in his prime.
3. Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta Braves: A year ago, I preferred Jordan Schafer among the gaggle of Brave outfield prospects, but Heyward has soared past him to take his place as the best outfield prospect in all of baseball, never mind just in the Atlanta system. Ticketed for High-A this season, Heyward got tongues wagging as a non-roster invite to Spring Training this year. Just 19 and already oozing talent, this youngster has amazing upside as a left-handed power hitter.
4. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants: It’s not inconceivable that Bumgarner arrives in San Francisco before the end of 2009, but given the Giants’ abundance of young arms, I hope they don’t rush their 2007 first round pick. He looked great in his spring debut, further building the anticipation that he will help turn around San Francisco’s fortunes in the very near future. Having said that, Bumgarner will be best served by another full season in the minors. He’ll start the year at High-A.
5. Travis Snider, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: Snider moved up from a share of seventh place in last year’s rankings based on his fantastic 2008 season including him being named an Eastern League All-Star and winning the Home Run Derby before finally becoming the youngest position player in the majors upon his August promotion. “The Franchise” as he was known in the minors, is a serious power threat, and he’s been pounding the ball this spring. And despite his poor contact rates, I’m expecting Snider to compete for the AL ROY award.
6. Neftali Feliz, RHP, Texas Rangers: Feliz soared from No. 28 on last year’s list. The one-time Brave prospect, sent to Texas in the Mark Teixeira deal, is now the jewel in a Ranger system that’s loaded with nice looking young arms (I know, I know, that seems weird to say). He soaked up the Spring Training experience with the Rangers, and is starting the season at Triple-A, although it won’t be long until he’s back in a Texas uniform to stay. This 20-year-old looked so good at Double-A last season, the true hallmark of a pitching prospect and the level that separates the contenders from the pretenders. Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2005, Feliz could legitimately help the Rangers in the second half, and if this team is hanging around in the AL West, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get the call. Ironically, despite the attention heaped on Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison and Elvis Andrus, Feliz could wind up being the steal of the Teixeira deal.
7. Colby Rasmus, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: Tied for seventh on last season’s list, Rasmus takes sole possession of that lucky digit this year. I’m extremely bullish on this kid’s long-term prospects, and while his immediate future looked clouded by: (a) Skip Schumaker, who isn’t looking so good at second base, and if he gets bumped back to the outfield, that means less at bats for Rasmus; and (b) Chris Duncan, who was outplaying the kid for the left field job this spring. Still, Rasmus earned a job, and will see plenty of action in all three outfield spots, especially in left.
8. Rick Porcello, RHP, Detroit Tigers: Porcello moved up from a share of 24th place a year ago based on a solid pro debut in which he emerged as someone who looks one day capable of logging a lot of quality innings. In fact, he’s advanced enough that Detroit opted to hand him the fifth starter job in despite the fact he had yet to pitch above A-Ball. In reality, I believe Porcello would have been better served by another half-season in the minors. His emergence, however, is key to Detroit taking it to the next level, so keep an eye on this 20-year-old, a first round pick just two years ago.
9. Cameron Maybin, OF, Florida Marlins: Maybin was our ninth-rated prospect heading into the season, and he’s held his perch. Many expected his trip to the majors to be expedited once he was included in the trade to Florida as part of the booty the Marlins received for Miguel Cabrera. It didn’t work out that way, but Maybin had a solid season at Double-A, showing extra-base pop, patience and speed, before hitting extremely well in the majors as a late-season call up. This five-tool prospect is blessed with serious speed and power, and at the age of just 21, has a tremendously bright future in the majors – one that will start in earnest this season as Florida hands him centre field. Unfortunately, talk that Maybin might wind up as the lead-off hitter proved inaccurate, and so far he’s spent most of his time batting eighth, which will restrict his value. He will see time in the two-hole from time to time as well, thankfully.
10. Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals: Moustakas, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 draft, made great strides last season, shooting all the way from No. 30 on our list to become a top 10 prospect this year. The 20 year-old, drafted out of high school in Chatsworth, California, is a great power-hitting prospect, and his big campaign at A-Ball has sent him to the top of KC’s prospect list. Moustakas is a solid contact hitter, but I would like to see him develop more patience, so at least another full season in the minors would be prudent. That will give also him time to adjust to third base, expected to be his long-term home since he shifted from shortstop midway through last season. Alex Gordon, you better start looking over your shoulder, dude.
11. Dexter Fowler, OF, Colorado Rockies: Fowler’s been bubbling under the surface for a couple of years now, but he absolutely exploded in 2008 at Double-A, showing, speed, patience, power and batting average. It earned him a September callup, and while Fowler struggled to make contact in his first taste of the majors, it won’t be long until he’s a starter and fixture at Coors. In fact, Ryan Spilborghs is simply keeping centrefield warm for this five-tool prospect, who celebrated his 23rd birthday last month. Fowler, who will start the season as the fourth outfielder, has serious speed, and while making contact is a challenge for Fowler, we expect him to carve out enough action to be an impact rookie.
12. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates: Despite undergoing some early-season adjustment issues, McCutchen showed nice development at the plate at Triple-A, riding a productive season to rise on our list from 17. He got a very long look this spring as the Pirates figured out what to do with him, but despite his late flourish, he was sent back to Triple-A. However, the 22-year-old won’t be long for the minors should be continue to improve at the plate, so expect to see him make his MLB debut well before mid-season.
13. Tommy Hanson, RHP, Atlanta Braves: Hanson rose from near obscurity more so than pretty well anyone on this list, and he’s been hyped like mad this offseason, yet deserves it all. Reports suggest he was the Braves’ top pitcher at camp, but considering all the moves Atlanta made to beef up its rotation this offseason, there was no room for Hanson right now, so he started the season at Triple-A. That could change in a few weeks if Tommy Glavine can’t take the hill when the Braves need a fifth starter for the first time. Could Hanson step in at that time? That might be premature, but this is a kid who made huge strides last season, simply dominating at High-A before performing solidly at Double-A (10.5 Ks per 9). We’re of the belief that even if he doesn’t get the call to Atlanta early, Hanson is someone who could surprise as a rookie sleeper at some point this season. It’s been a little while since Atlanta developed a pitching prospect that made an impact as a Brave, but Hanson is poised to break that drought very soon.
14. Brett Anderson, LHP, Oakland Athletics: Anderson, 21, pitched very well in High-A, but then was even better in Double-A – always an extremely promising sign for a pitching prospect. In fact, we expected him to get a September callup last year. Regardless, he made the team out of Spring Training and will make his first career start Friday. The southpaw is lauded for having command much beyond his years. He’s No. 24 on Baseball Prospectus’ Top 100 list, but we like him even more than that.
15. Trevor Cahill, RHP, Oakland Athletics: Cahill and Anderson are neck and neck here, and that’s quite appropriate since they will likely anchor the A’s rotation in the years to come. He’s another arm who impressed mightily this spring and, last season, after handling High-A very well, he too was even better after moving to Double-A. He just turned 21 last month, but with several Oakland starters hurting this spring, Cahill earned a job to start the season. Some experts consider this kid a top five prospect. I’m not as high on him as they are, but if he’s still rookie eligible at this time next year, he could very well make my top five.
16. Tim Beckham, SS, Tampa Bay Rays: The first overall pick in June was someone we started pimping right after the draft as a very special young player, and Tampa obviously felt the same, giving him a $6.15 million deal – the most the Rays have ever doled out for one of their draft picks. Beckham was reassigned to minor league camp and will start the season at Class-A, but reports about his fielding this spring were positive. He did okay in Rookie ball last year, and even got to play in a couple of games at Low-A. Still just 18, Beckham will play full-season ball this year, and it will be fun to watch how he adjusts to that.
17. Lars Anderson, 1B, Boston Red Sox: Anderson’s numbers weren’t eye popping in the least, but he impressed the experts with his play this spring before being reassigned to minor league camp (he’ll start the season at Double-A). He looks like a solid, productive hitter who could be a future middle of the order stick for the BoSox. The 21-year-old has certainly emerged as one of their best position player prospects after a season in which he did well at High-A and then was huge at Double-A, stepping up his power after the promotion.
18. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants: Despite the fact that he wowed everyone this spring, the Giants have no plans to promote Posey to the majors at any point in 2009, and that’s a wise call. You would hate to see a promising offensive catcher like Posey’s development stunted because he was rushed. Besides, after giving him a club record $6.2 million signing bonus, the Giants obviously want to protect their investment and bring him along at a pace that is sensible. The Giants kept the Florida St. star around in Spring Training for a while and let him soak up as much as possible before they reassigned him to minor league camp (he’ll begin the season at High-A). Posey, who turned 22 last month, was very impressive in his 10-game pro debut last year between Rookie ball and Low-A, and the fifth overall pick from 2008 is part of an exciting young wave of talent coming up in the San Francisco system.
19. Chris Tillman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles: Tillman has future top-of-the-rotation pitcher written all over him. He was simply dominant at Double-A last year, fanning over 10 batters per nine innings, a performance that must have stung Mariner fans after Seattle dispatched this talented arm to Baltimore in the Erik Bedard deal. Sure, Seattle’s farm system is stacked with talent, but Tillman is one that might come back to haunt. Clearly, he’s ready for Triple-A where he’ll start the season, but it may not be long before he sneaks his way into the majors, making him a sleeper choice among rookies to watch. Tillman, who won’t be 21 until next week, can pound the strike zone with consistent 92 mph heat and has a hammer of a curveball that can be used as an out pitch.
20. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates are expected to push their top pick from last season, but even though he hit the cover off the ball this spring, he was reassigned to High-A Lynchburg fairly early. I actually thought Alvarez might start his pro career at Double-A when I pimped him during the NL Central preview Podcast. This former Vanderbilt star has serious power potential, and by 2011, he should be a fantasy stud. Part of a 2008 draft class that was top heavy with corner infield power bats out of college, Alvarez finally signed a four-year, $6.355 million major league deal after a long battle between his agent Scott Boras (shocker, eh?) and the Bucs. If underachieving Andy LaRoche doesn’t get his shit together pretty darn soon, the Alvarez era may start earlier than we expect.
21. Matt LaPorta, 1B, Cleveland Indians: LaPorta showed tremendous extra-base pop this spring, living up to the hype he garnered as a 2008 Futures Game participant and member of the USA Olympic Team. Formerly Milwaukee’s top prospect, LaPorta went sent to Cleveland in the C.C. Sabathia deal, and at the time, we expected him to be aggressively promoted by the Tribe, but that didn’t happen as he was selected for the Olympic squad. This 24-year-old, the seventh overall pick in 2007, is a serious masher, and it’s just a matter of time before he’s taking aim at the fences for the Tribe. He’ll start the season at Triple-A.
22. Jarrod Parker, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks: After a solid pro debut in which he proved he was a winner and experienced a nice hike in K rate as the season progressed, Parker shot up from 31 on our list last season to pierce the top 25 this year. While some prefer Parker over Tillman as a long-term prospect, I ranked Tillman higher because he’s much closer to the majors, and the further a pitcher is out, the more things can potentially go wrong. Having said that, this 2007 first round pick out of an Indiana high school is universally lauded, with Baseball America ranking him as its 29th best prospect. Obviously the righty is Arizona’s top pitching prospect, and the idea that he, Brandon Webb and Max Scherzer will form the top of the D-Back rotation very soon must have Zona fans doing a jig of joy. Parker, who signed just before the deadline last year, looked good in his only appearance this spring, impressive for a 20-year-old kid. He’ll begin the season at High-A.
23. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals: Hosmer was probably the top high school hitter of his draft class last year when KC plucked him third overall. His kind of talent is extremely rare to find, so that’s why many expect Hosmer to move through the Royal system quickly. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to see much action last summer, recording a mere 11 at bats at Rookie ball (though, of course, even in this small sample size, he raked). Hosmer is gifted with awesome power, and the combination of him and Moustakas at the corners for KC will guarantee that the Royals will finally have an offense worth crowing about in the very near future. Hosmer will start the season at High-A, but prospect lovers should keep an eye on him.
24. Justin Smoak, 1B, Texas Rangers: Smoak impressed the hell out of everyone this spring, and as a player we were quite excited about when he was drafted last summer, we expect him to move quickly. Some thing he’ll arrive in the majors by the end of the summer, although that’s a tad optimistic. Still, ownership loves Smoak, so you’ve got to figure he’ll definitely be in the mix in Texas by 2010. The former South Carolina star was reassigned to minor league camp last week. I expected him to start out at High-A after showing in a mere 14 games last season that he could hit Class-A pitching (three dingers, .304 BA), but the Rangers opted to move him all the way to Double-A, proving they are serious about having this kid on the fast track.
25. Brian Matusz, LHP, Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles are stacked with future top-of-the-rotation type staters, and Matusz, the No. 4 overall pick and first pitcher taken in the 2008 draft, could have the most upside. He signed too late to make his pro debut last season, so the Orioles wisely won’t thrust him directly into the majors, instead opting to get him the appropriate amount of seasoning necessary so that when Matusz arrives, he’ll be there to stay. Scout.com ranked him as its 14th best prospect, a higher ranking than we’ve given him, but if he’s a good as a pro as he was in college (when he fanned 12.1 per nine innings with incredible command his final season), he’ll easily be that high and probably higher by this time next year. Matusz has started the season at High-A.
26. Mike Stanton, OF, Florida Marlins: Stanton is a key member of the next great wave of Marlin prospects. This 19-year-old, taken in the second round of 2007 of out a California high school, is an absolute behemoth at 6’5”, 210. The kid is all about pop, displaying off-the-charts power potential. Case in point: playing in full-season ball as an 18-year-old last year, Stanton smacked 39 homers in Class-A. Yes, I said 39. He also showed good on-base skills, but definitely needs work on his contact rates.
27. Alcides Escobar, SS, Milwaukee Brewers: The dude is MLB-ready now, defensively, and last season’s breakout offensively at Double-A suggests that part of his game is catching up quick. Escobar earned a September callup, and hit well in limited action, well enough to earn a spot on our Top 10 Rookies list. There’s a rumour he may be sent to San Diego if the Brewers make a play for Jake Peavy, but for now, Escobar is at Triple-A to start the season. But if Rickie Weeks struggles again, Milwaukee may summon the 22-year-old Escobar and put either him or J.J. Hardy at second base (with Escobar taking over at short in the latter scenario). Escobar’s emerging extra-base pop earned him recognition as Minor League Baseball’s No. 8 prospect.
28. Wade Davis, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays: After a season in which his Double-A numbers slipped, we’ve dropped Davis down the list from his share of fifth place last year. He was farmed out last month, and has started the season at Triple-A again, where, ironically, he pitched much better than he had at Double-A. Still just 23, Davis has averaged almost a strikeout per inning in his pro career, so there’s no reason to worry about the slight hiccup he had in 2008. Ranked No. 32 on Baseball America’s list, Davis is just about ready to pitch in the bigs, but he wasn’t expected to stick in Tampa this spring considered how stacked the Rays’ rotation is.
29. Fernando Martinez, OF, New York Mets: Martinez is a rarity, in that he was No. 25 on our Top Prospects list in 2007 before falling off last season as injuries continued to slow him down (he had just 245 at bats in 2007). He was slightly healthier in 2008, playing 90 games and accumulating 366 at bats, and his numbers improved across the board at Double-A. But because of all the injuries, and also the fact that he’s been promoted so aggressively (the dude was playing in Double-A at the age of 18), we haven’t really been able to get a clear idea of how good Martinez can be, because translating what a kid that young does at the level he’s playing at is difficult. However, scouting reports from the Dominican Republic this winter were extremely positive about Martinez, so if he can finally stay healthy enough to play even 100 games, the Mets’ top prospect could be ready to employ his picture perfect swing to take the next step in his career and provide a return to the team for the $1.4 million it gave him when he was signed out of the Dominican in 2005 (an extremely large sum for that kind of signing). The Mets were ecstatic that they didn’t have to part with Martinez this winter when they went shopping for a new bullpen. He’s started the season at Triple-A.
30. Yonder Alonso, 1B, Cincinnati Reds: Part of a spectacular wave of college hitting talents soon to be making a name for themselves in the majors, Alonso was the seventh overall pick in the 2008 draft. He signed soon enough to see a small amount of action at High-A, showing a great batting eye and plenty of patience. He’s starting the season at that level again, but Cincy’s top prospect is expected to move fast, and could easily be at Triple-A before season’s end. We expect the U. of Miami product to emerge as a top run producer in the Show.
31. Josh Vitters, 3B, Chicago Cubs: In a Cub system that lacks prospects close to the bigs, Vitters is one of the few bright spots. Taken third overall in 2007, Vitters must deal with the pressure that he is not Matt Wieters, who was taken two picks later. However, last season Vitters showed some nice extra-base pop at low-A. He struggled to make contact after a brief promotion to Class-A, and that’s probably the main reason he’ll start out there again this season, even though many thought he was ticketed for High-A.
32. Mat Gamel, 3B, Milwaukee Brewers: Gamel has a power bat, but like a former Brewer third base prospect before him (Ryan Braun), he is limited defensively, so may not stick at the hot corner. The team’s fourth round pick in 2005, Gamel showed great pop last season at Double-A, averaged a hit per game in a brief stint at Triple-A, and even got into a couple of big league games. He’ll start the season at Triple-A, but we think he’ll see enough action this season to have ranked him among the top 40 third basemen for 2009. Some consider Gamel to the Brewers’ top prospect, but I prefer Escobar mainly because of the uncertainty of Gamel’s ultimate home on the diamond.
33. Brett Wallace, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals: Wallace will definitely be major league ready by 2010, but Troy Glaus’ injury opens the door for him to possibly make an impact this season, especially if Glaus winds up missing the whole year. In fact, we’re so bullish on Wallace’s prospects, that he made our top 10 rookie list even though he wasn’t drafted until last year (13th overall). Wallace hit extremely well at Class-A and then, after promotion all the way to Double-A, he showed even more extra-base pop. He’ll start out at Double-A again and should quickly establish himself as a leader on that team, but we don’t anticipate him staying there long. This 22-year-old is on the serious fast track. He’s an advanced left-handed bat that showed no problem hitting against lefties. In fact, at A-Ball, he scorched them to the tune of .370 on his way to making the AFL All-Prospect Team.
34. Derek Holland, LHP, Texas Rangers: Few prospects in the game made the kind of strides that Holland did last season. His breakout season made him look like an absolute steal as a 25th round pick back in 2006. Holland dominated Class-A and then was even more unhittable in five High-A starts. To cap the season, he averaged 10 Ks/9 in four starts at Double-A. Texas thinks enough of this 22-year-old, part of a great wave of young Ranger arms, that it’s put him at Triple-A, where he will team up with fellow uber prospect Neftali Feliz.
35. Austin Jackson, CF, New York Yankees: Jackson impressed many people during Spring Training with his great results, including a grand slam. An eighth round pick in 2005, Jackson has been quite durable during his minor league career, and he held his own in his first season at Double-A last year, showing decent extra-base pop while batting .285. The team’s top prospect will start the season at Triple-A, where he’ll look to establish himself as a potential option should the Yankees need outfield help.
36. Angel Villalona, 1B/3B, San Francisco Giants: I dropped Villalona from No. 22 on last season’s list, but he could easily be a top 10 prospect before the end of 2009. Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic, he showed nice extra-base pop while spending most of the season as a 17-year-old in full season ball. Power will definitely be Villalona’s calling card, and he’s been promoted to High-A this year, where as part of the Giants’ minor league resurgence, he’ll play on a prospect-stacked team that includes seven of the team’s top nine young stars (as per Baseball America rankings).
37. Elvis Andrus, SS, Texas Rangers: Always known for his defense, Andrus’ offense showed signs of life at Double-A, as he enjoyed a productive 2008, batting .295 with decent on-base skills. The Rangers were impressed enough by this 20-year-old phenom’s progress that they shifted Michael Young over to third to open up shortstop for the kid. Andrus hasn’t disappointed in the early going, a pleasant surprise that keeps making that Teixeira trade (in which Andrus was acquired from Atlanta) look better and better for Texas. One of the most dynamic shortstops in the minors, Andrus is now wowing them in the Show.
38. Gordon Beckham, SS, Chicago White Sox: After competing for the second base job this spring, it’s pretty clear that Beckham will be ready to help the Sox darn soon. Last season’s eighth overall pick showed patience and pop while hitting .310 in his pro debut at Class-A. He’s started this season at Double-A and despite the fact he has played just 14 professional games, Beckham is expected to move quick. In fact, he even made our top rookie list as a long-shot candidate.
39. Carlos Santana, C, Cleveland Indians: While I suspect his guitar skills can’t possibly match that of his more famous namesake, this Carlos Santana can flat out rake, as he proved during his superb breakout campaign in 2008. He should arrive in the majors fairly soon, and his offensive upside is among the best in the game as far as backstops go. Traded from the Dodgers to Cleveland in a mid-season deal, Santana was tearing up High-A before the deal, and was even better afterward, stepping up his power. He then got a little late-season taste of Double-A, where he has started this season in impressive fashion, homering and driving in four runs. Santana, who turned 23 Wednesday, has a bright future as a run-producing catcher.
40. Michael Bowden, RHP, Boston Red Sox: This 2005 sandwich pick did a great job of limiting the long ball in Double-A, and while he was easier to hit in his 40 Triple-A innings, he still enjoyed superb control. Bowden made his big league debut in late-August and fared well in a spot start. He’s back at Triple-A to begin the campaign, part of a fantastic Pawtucket rotation that also features Daniel Bard and Clay Buchholz. A 6’3” righty, Bowden has great promise – possibly even top of the rotation stuff – but the BoSox are stacked on the mound right now, so he could be used as trade bait, and that may be his quickest way back to the majors at this point.
Graduating from last year’s top 35 prospect list: Jay Bruce (1), Clay Buchholz (3), Evan Longoria (4), Clayton Kershaw (T-5), Homer Bailey (10), Franklin Morales (T-12), Andy LaRoche (T-12), Jacoby Ellsbury (14), Joba Chamberlain (T-15), Chase Headley (T-15), Carlos Gonzalez (T-18), Ian Kennedy (T-20), Joey Votto (T-26), Johnny Cueto (T-26), Jeff Clement (32), Daric Barton (T-33), Chin-Lung Hu (T-33) and Brandon Wood (35).
Dropping off the list this season: Jordan Schafer (2), Chris Marrero (11), Desmond Jennings (T-18), Nick Adenhart (23) (who tragically, was killed on Wednesday) and Reid Brignac (29).