Prospects have provided the biggest storylines of the 2010 baseball season. Jason Heyward was the story of spring training, launching home runs so far that the Braves had to put up protective nets in the parking lots; they couldn’t keep him in the minors anymore. The Nationals tried their best to temper expectations for Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft. But he has been the pied piper all season, from Double-A Harrisburg to Triple-A Syracuse to Washington, drawing fans to parks and television screens with his 100 mph fastball, power breaking ball and premium changeup.
The game’s top prospects entering the season—they ranked 1-2 on our Top 100—aren’t alone in graduating to the majors. Brian Matusz (No. 5), Buster Posey (No. 7), Pedro Alvarez (No. 8), Carlos Santana (No. 10), Starlin Castro (No. 16), Ike Davis (No. 62) and Mike Leake (No. 72) are among the prospects who graduated to the big leagues this year.
That has left a bit of a vacuum of talent in the minors. As one National League pro scout put it, “Everybody that I’ve talked to is disappointed with the position players in the minors right now, as a whole.”
No pitcher in the minors rivals Strasburg. And while the top of our Midseason Prospects Update is bristling with toolsy outfielders, none approaches Heyward, who one American League scout termed “a true phenom, a truly rare talent. And I thought Strasburg at first just would be kind of a Verlander type, but now we’re just waiting to see how much better than that he’ll actually be.”
The candidates for top prospect at midseason are all outfielders. Angels outfielder Mike Trout has had the best year in the minors and probably has the best tools. One AL pro scout was so impressed with Trout, he compared him physically to Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher in terms of his explosive physicality.
“Trout has the loudest tools in the game outside the major leagues,” the scout said. “He’s physical and strong, he’s an easy 80 runner (on the 20-80 scale), and his speed will hold up. He’s dynamic, the power’s for real, the athleticism . . .
“But, (Domonic) Brown and (Desmond) Jennings are doing it in Triple-A. There’s a real big difference for me between doing it at that level, against those pitchers, and doing it in A-ball, and those guys have real good tools too.”
That explains the top of our list. We also went for the Triple-A player with results and upside as our top pitcher, with Rays righthander Jeremy Hellickson getting the nod over harder-throwing Braves righty Julio Teheran.
Players eligible for our Midseason Top 25 are not in the majors as of July 4; retain rookie eligibility; and were drafted prior to 2010.
Top 25 Midseason Prospects
1. Domonic Brown, of, Phillies (Triple-A Lehigh Valley): The power has come through as the Phillies predicted, as Brown has started to fill out at age 22 and surpassed his career home runs total in his first 65 games at Double-A Reading. Then he went out and hit four in his first 13 games after a promotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He ranks 10th in the minors in OPS, and he’s doing it with big tools at upper levels. His still-raw defensive skills (his defensive tools are fine) are his only major flaw.
2. Mike Trout, of, Angels (Low Class A Cedar Rapids): Trout hasn’t done much wrong. He ranked first in the minors in runs (74), second in batting (.362) and stolen bases (42), was tied for fourth in on-base percentage (.447) and ranks first in scouts’ enthusiasm. Trout hasn’t committed an error, plays hard and seems to be thriving rather than shrinking from the grind.
3. Desmond Jennings, of, Rays (Triple-A Durham): Spring shoulder and wrist injuries kept Jennings behind early, and he didn’t hit his first home run until June 29. That said, he heated up in June (.353/.407/.549), has the tools to be an above-average defender in center field and has the tools to be an impact leadoff hitter (including 20-for-22 stolen bases this year).
4. Jeremy Hellickson, rhp, Rays (Triple-A Durham): Jennings’ teammate at Durham has had a better year and is a safer bet but has a bit lower ceiling. Hellickson has improved his two-seamer and added a cutter this season to complement his 91-92 mph four-seam fastball, which he commands well, and his plus changeup. “The only question was the life on his fastball,” one scout said, “and now he’s really got that two-seamer working. He’s a sure-bet No. 3 starter and probably more of a future No. 2.”
5. Jesus Montero, c/dh, Yankees (Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre): Montero hasn’t improved this year, and for some he hasn’t impressed. After generating positive defensive trends and reports at the end of 2009 at Double-A Trenton, Montero has convinced scouts this year that he won’t be a long-term catcher. He was leading the International League with 12 passed balls and was getting run on at will—87 attempts in 63 games, throwing out 19 (22 percent). He’s experiencing his first adversity offensively, but scouts are confident his bat will still be strong.
6. Julio Teheran, rhp, Braves (High Class A Myrtle Beach): Teheran has the highest upside of any pitcher in the minors currently, with a clean, power arm that produces consistent mid-90s heat, and he throws a lot of strikes. Teheran already has exceeded his career high in innings, so his second half may not be as impressive as his first.
7. Dustin Ackley, 2b, Mariners (Double-A West Tenn): Ackley had a brutal April, and his defense has a ways to go (see Prospect Pulse, Page 18). But he’s pushed his OBP over .380 and is starting to find the gaps.
8. Martin Perez, lhp, Rangers (Double-A Frisco): The counting numbers (3-4, 5.46) aren’t great. The ratios (9.5 K/9 IP, 1.80 groundout/flyout ratio) are better, as is his repertoire (three pitches all above-average at times) and age (just 19).
9. Aaron Hicks, of, Twins (Low Class A Beloit): Hicks remains projection over production at this point. The tools (plus-plus arm strength and defense, plus speed and raw power) are too loud to ignore, and his willingness to take a walk is a strong positive sign.
10. Zach Britton, lhp, Orioles (Triple-A Norfolk): Scouts would like to see a better changeup; right now, his is below-average. But his turbo sinker, touching 94 mph, is the minors’ best (3.68 groundout/airout ratio), and his slider is pushing into above-average territory.
11. Michael Pineda, rhp, Mariners (Triple-A Tacoma): No pitcher in the minors has more buzz than Pineda, whose fastball recently reached 98 mph and has consistently sat around 95 this season. He has honed his cutter into a power, low-80s slider, and his changeup remains above-average. He’s a big-bodied power pitcher with stuff and results (10-1, 2.25 overall this season, 9.75 K/9 IP). His only negative is his health history, as elbow soreness limited him in 2009.
12. Mike Moustakas, 3b, Royals (Double-A Northwest Arkansas): His run at a Texas League triple crown stems from legitimate pull power, a short, powerful stroke and excellent makeup. Moustakas has had a big bounceback year offensively, and some scouts think he can stay at third base as well. “It’s a legit 70 arm,” one AL scout said, “and he works hard at it over there. In a few years, he may lose some athleticism and have to move. But right now, he’s a solid-average third baseman.”
13. Eric Hosmer, 1b, Royals (High Class A Wilmington): Last season was a lost one for Hosmer between eye issues and a hand injury. This season, he’s the guy the Royals picked third overall in 2008, with premium offensive tools. His .353 average ranked sixth in the minors (just behind Moustakas), and he’s tied for ninth in doubles (26). Expect many of those to become homers as he leaves Wilmington’s cavernous park behind.
14. Aroldis Chapman, lhp, Reds (Triple-A Louisville): Chapman was almost a legend before he ever put on a uniform. Now we know his velocity is real—he hit 103 mph in a late-June relief outing on the BA Stalker radar gun—and that he’s still raw, with mechanical issues to iron out. His ceiling remains prodigious, but he’s no Stephen Strasburg. Not yet anyway.
15. Brett Lawrie, 2b, Brewers (Double-A Huntsville): Just 20, Lawrie was leading the Southern League in hits (102), extra-base hits (39), triples (11) and total bases (164). He’s a well-rounded, aggressive offensive player who remains indifferent defensively. Some reports also indicate his throwing arm has declined, meaning he may be more of a left fielder than a right fielder if he has to move off the dirt.
16. Logan Morrison, 1b, Marlins (Triple-A New Orleans): Like Jennings, a shoulder injury slowed Morrison this season, and his power has taken a bit of a hit as a result. But he’s as polished a hitter as there is in the minors, with gap power and excellent plate discipline (36-27 BB-K ratio).
17. Simon Castro, rhp, Padres (Double-A San Antonio): Physical (listed 6-foot-5, 210 pounds). Consistent (one start less than five innings all season). Tough to hit (.208 average against led the Texas League). Castro isn’t a big name, but he’s accomplished and keeps getting better.
18. Mike Montgomery, lhp, Royals (Double-A Northwest Arkansas): Before being sidelined by forearm tightness, Montgomery was in the running for “top pitching prospect” honors. He’s a lefty with a mid-90s fastball, mid-80s change with fade and improved curveball.
19. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3b, Indians (Double-A Akron): Chisenhall hasn’t lit the world on fire at Double-A, but scouts still believe in his swing. He’s athletic and a solid defender who needs to improve against lefthanded pitching (.224). It would be a surprise if he didn’t develop into at least a solid-average regular, but he may fall short of stardom.
20. Freddie Freeman, 1b, Braves (Triple-A Gwinnett): The youngest player in the International League had a hot June (.923 OPS), allaying fears he couldn’t make adjustments against advanced pitching. He’s not far from being ready to join roommate Jason Heyward in the Braves’ lineup.
21. Tyler Matzek, lhp, Rockies (Low Class A Asheville): The Rockies have handled Matzek with care this season, and he hasn’t quite rounded into the summer 2009 form that saw him touch 98 mph with his fastball. He’s been more in the 88-92 mph range this season, but he does it easily and has a potential four-pitch mix.
22. Kyle Gibson, rhp, Twins (Double-A New Britain): Gibson edges out fellow 2009 college draftees Mike Minor (Braves) and Alex White (Indians) for his ability to dominate off a two-seam fastball that peaks at 93 mph. His slider gives him a swing-and-miss pitch, and he’s improved his changeup, a must for Twins farmhands.
23. Kyle Drabek, rhp, Blue Jays (Double-A New Hampshire): Drabek’s strikeouts are down, perhaps due in part to a slight dip in velocity, as he’s sitting 90-91 according to some reports. His curveball remains plus, and his changeup has become average. A July 4 no-hitter hinted at his potential.
24. Casey Kelly, rhp, Red Sox (Double-A Portland): Kelly’s stuff has been fine, with a fastball showing increased velocity (up to 95 mph) and power on his upper-70s curveball. The 20-year-old also has found pitching in Double-A (1-4, 5.45, 63/28 SO/BB in 68 IP) much tougher than A-ball.
25. Tanner Scheppers, rhp, Rangers (Triple-A Oklahoma City): Few minor leaguers have an arm as good as Scheppers, whose fastball regularly reaches 98 mph in short stints. His slider has plus potential as well. He’s looking more like a reliever, though, struggling a bit while getting stretched out since his promotion to Triple-A.
Prospects 26-50 (in alphabetical order): Chris Carter, 1b, Athletics; Jared Cosart, rhp, Phillies; Travis d’Arnaud, c, Blue Jays; Randall Delgado, rhp, Braves; Christian Friedrich, lhp, Rockies; Dee Gordon, ss, Dodgers; Grant Green, ss, Athletics; Brett Jackson, of, Cubs; John Lamb, lhp, Royals; Jordan Lyles, rhp, Astros; Ethan Martin, rhp, Dodgers; Shelby Miller, rhp, Cardinals; Mike Minor, lhp, Braves; Wil Myers, c, Royals; Wilson Ramos, c, Twins; Austin Romine, c, Yankees; Wilin Rosario, c, Rockies; Tony Sanchez, c, Pirates; Jonathan Singleton, 1b, Phillies; Jacob Turner, rhp, Tigers; Arodys Vizcaino, rhp, Braves; Brett Wallace, 1b, Blue Jays; Zach Wheeler, rhp, Giants; Alex White, rhp, Indians; Chris Withrow, rhp, Dodgers.