Nearly one full year after the 2008 draft, some picks are looking like steals. Some are even knocking on the door of the 2010 top 100 prospects list.
Matt Eddy already gave us a progress report on first-round picks from the 2008 draft class. But while the "first-round pick" label tends to hang with a player years after his selection, that status is only a snapshot in time. Struggling first-rounders seem to get a longer leash several years after their selection if the decision makers who picked them are still in the front office, so having "first-round pick" on their résumés can provide them with more opportunities in an organization.
But as we gain more information on a player performing with wood bats against professional competition, scouts’ opinions can change, even between the day of the draft and the final day of the minor league season months later.
With the 2009 draft turning into a multi-day event starting with the first three rounds on June 9, let’s take a look at some of the prospects drafted in 2008 from the supplemental first round through the third round who have stood out this season, sorted by their draft slot. Next week we’ll highlight 2008 draft picks on the rise who were selected in the fourth round or later.
1. Brad Holt, rhp, Mets, supplemental first round (33rd overall)
Holt’s fastball was too much for short-season New York-Penn League hitters to handle last year. It’s looking like the Florida State League can’t catch up to Holt, either. The high Class A St. Lucie rightander has a 3.57 ERA in 35 1/3 innings, with 44 strikeouts (11.2 K/9) and nine walks (2.3 BB/9). At this rate, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Holt, a 22-year-old from UNC Wilmington, in Double-A by the end of the year.
2. Jordan Lyles, rhp, Astros, supplemental first round (38th overall)
Lyles didn’t rank among the top 200 prospects for the 2008 draft, but the Astros had enough conviction in Lyles to take him off the board with the 38th pick. Now Lyles, 18, is building a case as one of the better pitching prospects in A-ball. In 48 2/3 innings with low Class A Lexington, Lyles has 56 strikeouts (10.4 K/9) and 11 walks (2.0 BB/9) with a 3.14 ERA. Lyles is a good athlete with a repeatable delivery, allowing him to throw strikes and miss bats with his low-90s fastball, curveball and changeup.
3. Lance Lynn, rhp, Cardinals, supplemental first round (39th overall)
Lynn, 22, was one of the most advanced pitchers in last year’s draft. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound righthander from Mississippi has shown why, already reaching Double-A Springfield. Lynn struck out 17 and walked three in 15 2/3 innings to open the season with high Class A Palm Beach, where he left with a 2.30 ERA. He’s made five starts since his promotion, posting a 2.54 ERA with 23 punchouts and seven walks in 28 1/3 innings. Lynn has an advanced delivery, pounding the strike zone with fastballs in the high-80s to low-90s. He could reach the big leagues at some point in 2010.
4. Jaff Decker, lf, Padres, supplemental first round (42nd overall)
Decker was among the most disciplined hitters available last year, and he’s showing a promising combination of plate discipline and power for low Class A Fort Wayne. Through 126 plate appearances, Decker is batting .301/.484/.570 with seven doubles, six homers, 30 walks and 23 strikeouts. At 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, Decker is already relatively physically mature for a 19-year-old and he’s limited to a corner outfield position. But as a power hitter who doesn’t make many outs, his bat could help him move quickly. ("Jaff," by the way, is just pronounced "Jeff.")
5. Logan Forsythe, 3b, Padres, supplemental first round (46th overall)
The Padres like their hitters to control the strike zone, and that’s one of Forsythe’s strengths. The 22-year-old from Arkansas has more walks (39) than strikeouts (32) for high Class A Lake Elsinore, as he’s off to a .322/.477/.513 start in 197 plate appearances in the California League. Beyond his sharp batting eye, Forsythe also has physical abilities that stand out. He’s a good athlete with a short swing, though he’ll have to show that his power will translate outside of the Cal League.
6. Josh Lindblom, rhp, Dodgers, second round (61st overall)
At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Lindblom is one of the bigger pitchers in the minors, but he’s stood out early in the year with his ability to throw strikes at a high frequency. After walking just four batters in 29 innings last year in his pro debut with low Class A Great Lakes, the 21-year-old Lindblom has walked just three batters in 33 2/3 innings (0.8 BB/9) for Double-A Chattanooga this year and struck out 31 (8.3 K/9). Lindblom, who was a reliever at Purdue his junior year, can touch the mid-90s with his fastball, though he sits more comfortably in the low-90s as a starter.
7. James Darnell, 3b, Padres, second round (69th overall)
You have to dock Darnell for being a collegiate hitter in low Class A, but he’s only in Fort Wayne because the Padres have Forsythe playing third base one level above him in Lake Elsinore. Like Decker and Forsythe, Darnell also has more walks (42) than strikeouts (40) with an OBP above .400, as the 22-year-old from South Carolina is batting .262/.429/.428 in 187 plate appearances. Darnell has plus raw power, so his seemingly modest power output is more a byproduct of playing in the Midwest League than any cause for concern. More worrisome are the 13 errors he’s made in 44 games at third base.
8. Zeke Spruill, rhp, Braves, second round (70th overall)
Spruill’s ability to repeat his delivery means he’s been stingy with the free passes. With eight walks (1.3 BB/9) in 54 innings for low Class A Rome, the 19-year-old Spruill didn’t walk a batter until his fourth outing of the season, and he’s gone five of his nine appearances without allowing a walk. Spruill’s ERA sits at 2.83, and his feel for pitching has also helped him strike out 42 batters.
9. Jason Knapp, rhp, Phillies, second round (71st overall)
Knapp’s first start of the year for low Class A Lakewood was an attention-grabber, as the 18-year-old struck out 10 batters in 5 2/3 innings in his opener. Then he topped that performance in his third start, striking out 14 with one walk (though he did hit three batters) in seven scoreless innings in which he allowed just one hit. Now Knapp, who is 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, is averaging 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings with 63 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings. While Knapp’s fastball can hit the mid-90s, he also needs to hit the strike zone more often with his stuff. Knapp has walked 21 batters (4.1 BB/9) and hit seven more, leading to a 4.86 ERA.
10. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, cf, Mets, third round (100th overall)
The Mets plucked Nieuwenhuis out of NAIA Azusa Pacific (Calif.) last year, and there are reasons for early optimism for the 21-year-old center fielder. Batting .255/.347/.477 in 170 plate appearances in the FSL, Nieuwenhuis is showing impressive lefthanded power in a tough league for hitters with seven home runs, 10 doubles and one triple. The 40 strikeouts are a touch high, though not alarmingly so—at least not yet.
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