Prospect Hot Sheet: Sept. 4


See also: Previous Prospect Hot Sheet

Another season in the books–well, almost . . . the short-season Northwest League ends tomorrow, and the short-season New York-Penn League and the Rookie-level Pioneer League both end on Friday–and we’re licking our chops here at Baseball America as we get ready to roll out league top 20 prospects list across the minors.

This year, we decided to go out with a humdinger of a Hot Sheet; ranking the top 20 biggest years of the 2007 season and not just pull out the 20 players who finished the last week of the regular season strong.

Remember, this is not a rewrite of our Top 100 prospects list or a new Top 20 prospects list. This is simply a snapshot of which prospects who had the best seasons.

Please note, for players currently in the major leagues or players who played at different levels, their team is reflected at the last minor league stop in 2007.

If you have any comments, feel free to e-mail Chris Kline with your kudos or complaints.

1. Jay Bruce, Triple-A Louisville (Reds)

Rumor has it Bruce is our 2007 Minor League Player of the Year, but we’ll never tell.

Well, at least not until Friday. Bruce started the season in high Class A, spent just two weeks in Double-A and finished it in the International League. Who cares if he wasn’t called up? Bruce finished second in the minors to high Class A Lancaster’s Zach Daeges in extra-base hits with 80. We should point out that Daeges spent all year in the hitter-friendly California League and is three years older than Bruce . . .

The 20-year-old Bruce finished the year at Louisville despite the Reds originally envisioning his promotion to Triple-A to be brief. Bruce also garners constant comparisons to Larry Walker, which he automatically deflects.

“If you don’t pan out to be Larry Walker, then everyone was wrong,” Bruce said. “If I’m a totally different player, everyone was wrong. Larry Walker was one of the best players of his time–great player, does it all. There’s not too many players out there like that, so just to be mentioned in the same breath, same sentence and to be even closely compared to him at all is an honor.

“But you have to take it for what it’s worth and I have to be Jay Bruce. There are definitely things I need to work on if I’m going to be a productive major league player.”

One of those things is cutting down the strikeouts. Bruce whiffed 135 times over three levels this season after striking out 106 times in the Midwest League last year.

“That’s just not acceptable for me,” Bruce said. “I had 106 last year, but that was in a lot more at-bats. But this year had been a little different in regards to moving around so much and having to make adjustments. There’s a learning curve, but I don’t want to be a guy who strikes out a lot–even if I’m a ‘power’ guy. As I play more, I think it’s going to get better.”

In 187 Triple-A at-bats, Bruce batted .305/.358/.567 with 11 homers for the Bats.

2. Clay Buchholz, rhp, Triple-A Pawtucket (Red Sox)

Even without the no-hitter, Buchholz had already cemented his place as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Buchholz started the year with Double-A Portland, posting a 1.77 ERA with 116 strikeouts and 22 walks in 86 2/3 innings. Buchholz, who turned 23 a little more than two weeks ago, didn’t miss a beat upon his promotion to Pawtucket. In 39 innings, Buchholz had 55 strikeouts and 13 walks, using his mid-90s fastball, 12-to-6 curveball and slow-motion changeup to baffle opposing hitters. Though he is nearing the upper limit of his innings-pitched limit this season, Buchholz may have forced the Red Sox to find him a permanent place in their rotation.

3. Justin Upton, Double-A Mobile (Diamondbacks)

Upton came as advertised, even though a lot of people fell off the bandwagon after a sub-par performance in the Midwest League last season. Upton lit up the Cal League and went on to the Southern League, where he completely changed the team dynamic in Mobile. After homering in the Futures Game, it was only a matter of time before the Diamondbacks decided to skip Upton over Triple-A and bring him straight to the big leagues.

4. Ian Kennedy, rhp, Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees)

Joba Chamberlain might have better pure stuff, but it was Kennedy who was better in the minors as far as numbers go. Virtually unhittable at times, Kennedy allowed just 91 hits in 146 innings while posting a 163-50 K-BB mark across three levels. Quietly effective, Kennedy has put himself in a position to be a part of what could be one of the best young rotations in the majors next season.

5. Joba Chamberlain, rhp, Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees)

Another big leaguer on the list, Chamberlain’s dramatic rise through the system this season was practically unprecedented. Consider he didn’t play last season after signing as a supplemental first-rounder, and the Yankees sent him, along with Kennedy, to Hawaii Winter Baseball to get innings in a structured environment. After ranking as BA’s top prospect in Hawaii, Chamberlain missed the season’s first month with a strained hamstring. He didn’t make his official pro debut until May 7 for high Class A Tampa. After a month in the Florida State League, Chamberlain spent two months in Double-A, and then moved to the pen after being promoted to Triple-A. And 11 innings into his big league career, the 21-year-old has yet to allow his first run.

6. Evan Longoria, 3b, Triple-A Durham (Devil Rays)

Longoria splashed onto the scene after being the third overall pick in 2006, hitting better than anyone thought he would and making it all the way to Double-A . . . where he won a championship in Montgomery. This season it’s been steady as she goes for the 21-year-old. Longoria started back in the Southern League where he hit .307/.403/.528 in 381 at-bats before being promoted to Durham. He’s held his own in the International League, and has a chance to win another ring with the Bulls, who start their postseason run Wednesday at home against Toledo.

7. Travis Snider, of, low Class A Lansing (Blue Jays)

While Snider’s overall line might not seem overwhelming–.313/.377/.525–he did play the entire year at age 19, and he played in a league where the average batter hit just .255 and slugged just .372. In fact, Snider, the 14th-overall pick in 2006, was the only batting title qualifier to slug more than .500 in the Midwest League–and he held nearly a 50-point advantage over No. 2 John Whittleman. Snider also led the league with 93 RBIs, 35 doubles and 58 extra-base hits, and he finished runner up in the batting race. One final fun fact: Neither Justin Upton (.413) nor Cameron Maybin (.457) eclipsed a .500 slugging percentage when they played in the MWL in 2006.

8. Colby Rasmus, of, Double-A Springfield (Cardinals)

Like Bruce and Upton, Rasmus is a high school first-round pick from the 2005 draft class. And while he spent all year at the same level, it as probably the best thing for him developmentally speaking. Rasmus quietly put up solid numbers all year in Springfield, and then August happened. Last month, Rasmus turned 21, and put together his best run of the 2007 season, hitting .365/.455/.779 with 12 of his Texas League high 29 home runs.

9. Jordan Schafer, of, high Class A Myrtle Beach (Braves)

Don’t underestimate the power of Schafer, who had one of the best seasons in the minors and improved his stock in the Braves’ system to become a shoe-in for the Braves’ Top 10 Prospects. Schafer, who turned 21 today, had a very Grady Sizemore-like year in the Carolina League, batting .294/.354/.477 with 10 homers, 43 RBIs, 70 runs scored and 19 steals. Schafer wound up leading the minors in hits (176), and ranked among the overall leaders in doubles, extra-base hits and total bases.

10. Steven Pearce, 1b/of, Triple-A Indianapolis (Pirates)

Pearce’s year was as loud as anyone’s in the minors, but perhaps the two most impressive aspects about moving from high Class A all the way to the International League were: 1) Pearce’s plate discipline, and 2) His ability to swipe bags as a 5-foot-11, 200-pound johnson. After striking out 97 times between low Class A Hickory and high Class A Lynchburg last season, Pearce carried a 70-47 strikeout-walk mark this year. And as far as his wheels go, Pearce runs surprisingly well and has good instincts on the bases, stealing 14 bases in 16 attempts this season. And then there’s the stick: Across three levels, the 24-year-old hit .333/.394/.622 in 487 at-bats.

11. Adam Jones, of, Triple-A Tacoma (Mariners)

The 22-year-old Jones was enjoying a breakout season when he was called to Seattle in early August. He batted .314/.382/.586 with 25 home runs and 27 doubles for Tacoma, and he held off a hard-charging Brian Myrow to rank third in the Pacific Coast League in slugging percentage. Drafted as a shortstop in the 2003 supplemental first round, Jones showed improvement in every facet of his game in 2007–even in center field, where he showed above-average range and arm strength.

12. Wade Davis, rhp, Double-A Montgomery (Devil Rays)

In many organizations, Davis would be the No. 1 prospect. In a system as rich as Tampa Bay’s, though, Davis has to fight for the spotlight with a range of other talented prospects. But make no mistake: Davis is one of the elite pitching prospects in baseball. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound righthander had a 1.84 ERA with 88 strikeouts and 21 walks in 78 innings with high Class A Vero Beach before the Devils Rays promoted him to Double-A Montgomery. Davis continued his dominance with the Biscuits, striking out 81 with 30 walks in 80 innings, and holding down a 3.15 ERA. Davis turns 22 on Friday.

13. Clayton Kershaw, lhp, Double-A Jacksonville (Dodgers)

Kershaw cruised through the Midwest League with low Class A Great Lakes, going 7-5, 2.77 in 97 innings with an appearance in the Futures Game before being promoted to Jacksonville. He had a wake up call in his first couple of outings, but finished 1-2, 3.65 in 25 innings. Kershaw finished the season 8-7, 2.95 in 122 innings with 163 strikeouts. He was third in the minors with 12.02 strikeouts per nine innings.

14. Jed Lowrie, ss, Triple-A Pawtucket (Red Sox)

A year ago, even some in-house evaluators in Boston didn’t think Lowrie could remain at shortstop, but the 45th overall pick in 2005 is healthy for the first time in his pro career and continues to prove the doubters wrong. Lowrie had the best offensive season of any shortstop in the minors, hitting .298/.393/.503 with 13 homers, 47 doubles and 70 RBIs, and he finished up the year in Triple-A.

15. Matt Antonelli, 2b, Double-A San Antonio (Padres)

What do you do with an athletic third baseman who failed to hit for power in his pro debut? If you’re the Padres, you turn him into the top second-base prospect in the minors. After going homerless in 205 pro at-bats in 2006, Antonelli, who was drafted 17th overall that year, successfully made the switch to second base, and his overall game blossomed. While the 22-year-old did not always look smooth at the keystone (17 errors), his offense certainly was not hindered in any way. In 534 at-bats for San Antonio and high Class A Lake Elsinore, Antonelli batted .307/.404/.491 with 21 home runs, 23 doubles and 28 steals. Oh, and he finished second in the minors with 123 runs scored, 14th with 164 hits and 13th with 83 walks.

16. James McDonald, rhp, Double-A Jacksonville (Dodgers)

McDonald came out of nowhere and will likely rank in the Dodgers’ Top 10 Prospects. McDonald, who spent all of 2004 and 2005 as an outfielder, went 6-7, 3.95 in the Cal League before moving to Jacksonville where he carved up hitters with his 89-93 mph fastball, curveball and plus changeup. After going 7-2, 1.71 in 53 innings for the Suns, McDonald ranked among the overall strikeout leaders with 168 in 135 innings.

17. Chris Davis, 3b, Double-A Frisco (Rangers)

A 2006 fifth-rounder out of Navarro (Texas) Junior College, Davis opened a lot of eyes this season with the ability to hit for average with above-average power. Even though he played in two hitter-friendly leagues, Davis batted .297/.347/.598 combined between high Class A Bakersfield and Frisco, where he blasted 36 homers. Strikeouts are a concern, however, as the 21-year-old whiffed 150 times in 495 at-bats.

18. Cole Rohrbough, lhp, low Class A Rome (Braves)

Rohrbough, a draft-and-follow pick in 2006, burst onto the scene in 2007 with Rookie-level Danville where he completely shut down Appalachian League hitters. In 33 innings he went 3-2, 1.08 with 58 strikeouts.
He was promoted to low Class A Rome on Aug. 5 and went 2-0, 1.29 in 28 innings with 38 strikeouts to give him a 5-2, 1.17 line for the season.

19. Geovany Soto, c, Triple-A Iowa (Cubs)

Few players elicit as many mixed opinions in the Baseball America office as Soto does. In his third year at Triple-A, the 24-year-old Soto put up monster numbers for the first time in his career. A career .262/.344/.371 hitter in 1,574 minor league at-bats, Soto’s batting and slugging averages skyrocketed this year. Soto finished the year hitting .353/.424/.652 in 110 games with Iowa. The question going forward with Soto is whether this season was a breakout year or simply a fluke. Given Chicago’s lack of talent at catcher, Soto would seem to have a great shot at a big league starting job next season with Jason Kendall out of the picture.

20. Ryan Royster, of, low Class A Columbus (Devil Rays)

Royster hasn’t spent a day above low Class A, but he tied for seventh in the minors with a .601 slugging percentage. With Columbus, he hit .329/.380/.601 in 474 at-bats with 30 home runs. The 2005 sixth-round pick also had a drought of 91 at-bats with no home runs, but later reeled off six straight games with a home run to rediscover his stroke.

NOT-SO HOT YEARS

Daniel Bard, rhp, low Class A Greenville (Red Sox)

Bard was selected 28th overall in 2006 and signed for $1.55 million after flashing a high-90s fastball in North Carolina’s trip to the College World Series. However, his 2007 campaign shows that professional hitters can hit such fastballs and having secondary pitches is necessary for success.
Bard started with high Class A Lancaster, but went 0-2, 10.13 in 13 innings with a 9-22 strikeout-walk ratio before he was put on the disabled list with a  strained right tricep. After some time at extended spring training, Bard reported to Greenville and continued to have problems on the mound. He went 3-5, 6.39 in 62 innings to finish at 3-7, 7.05 overall. His overall stats are the portrait of a pitcher who can’t find the plate: in 75 innings he walked 78, struck out 48 and was third in the minors with 27 wild pitches.

Matt Sulentic, of, low Class A Kane County (Athletics)

Sulentic was supposed to be a polished high school hitter when the A’s took him in the third round (with their second pick) last June. Instead, the ’06 prep All-American was overmatched in his first try at full-season ball. The Midwest League is tough on teenage hitters, but a .453 on-base-plus-slugging is hard to ignore. So are 77 strikeouts in 69 games after his demotion to the Northwest League–again, a tough hitter’s park in a tough league, but one a true prospect should handle.

Craig Hansen, rhp, Triple-A Pawtucket (Red Sox)

The Red Sox were expecting Hansen to be ready to help them in the majors this year when they gave him a major league contract as a 2005 first-round pick. Hansen has not lived up to expectations, which seems about par for the course for every other college closer drafted high. He’s lost his release point on his once-wicked slider, allowed 58 hits in 51 innings for the PawSox, and walked 32 while striking out just 48. In other words . . . he’s still not ready. To a lesser extent, the same applies to fellow Sox closer prospect Bryce Cox, who struck out just 27 in 48 innings overall this season. At least he’s not on the 40-man roster . . .

Ricky Romero, lhp, Double-A New Hampshire (Blue Jays)

For as highly touted as Romero was coming into the 2005 draft, the sixth overall pick has done nothing to live up to those expectations. Throw in the fact that each of the five selections before Romero–Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Jeff Clement, Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Braun–have all surpassed him on the ladder and there are all the components that define the word ‘bust.’ Romero split 2006 between high Class A Dunedin and New Hampshire, and spent the bulk of 2007 with the Fisher Cats where he went a disappointing 3-6, 4.89 in 88 innings. And for the record, the Rockies took Troy Tulowitzki seventh overall in 2005–a sure-handed shortstop with power that the Jays could have used this year.

Eric Campbell, 3b, high Class A Myrtle Beach (Braves)/Van Pope, 3b, Double-A Mississippi (Braves)

No one in the minors received worse reports from scouts and field staff than Campbell this season. A solid third baseman with the ability to hit for average and power, Campbell isn’t one to push himself to the limits and will probably never reach his ultimate ceiling. “The kid can hit, but he doesn’t run–he doesn’t hustle or bust his ass–for anybody,” a scout from a National League club said earlier this year. Campbell was sent home from Hawaii Winter Baseball last season, and the Braves placed him on the suspended list and sent him home again three weeks ago. “He just doesn’t give you anything,” says one Carolina League manager. “It’s frustrating, because he has all kinds of ability, but no heart. It makes you wonder if he even enjoys the game. I don’t think he does.”

In 298 at-bats this season for the Pelicans, Campbell hit just .221/.312/.406. The power numbers (14 homers, 13 doubles) were there, as was the plate discipline. Campbell just doesn’t want to work hard. And that’s not good for a guy Atlanta gave $500,000 as a second-round pick in 2004.

Pope is a completely different story, and lacking heart was anything but his problem en route to a season where he hit .223/.298/.340 in 421 at-bats at Double-A Mississippi. The M-Braves play in Pearl, Miss., a suburb of Pope’s hometown of Jackson, and there was a large contingent of Pope supporters for every home game to root him on. The 23-year-old started pressing early, fell in a hole with his swing and never dug his way out. Managers who saw him hit .263 with 15 home runs in the CL last season predict a breakout year for Pope next season, but if he returns to Mississippi, he might want to put a limit on his friends and family who make it out to Trustmark Park.

HELIUM

Jason Pridie, cf, Triple-A Durham (Devil Rays)

Pridie once was in the Rays’ crowded outfield discussion, then dropped steadily down their prospect lists over the years for various reasons–his own performance, injuries, getting Rule 5′d by the Twins. In 2007, he put all that behind him and just balled, at two high levels in two tough leagues for hitters–.303/.352/.487 for the year in 524 at-bats, with 57 extra-base hits and 26 stolen bases (in 36 tries). Pridie, 23, grades out as average or above in every tool, with the hit tool being the biggest question mark because he doesn’t control the strike zone.

Nick Weglarz, of, high Class A Kinston (Indians)

Weglarz ranked No. 27 in the Indians system in the 2006 edition of Baseball America Prospect Handbook, and didn’t even make the cut for the 2007 book after missing most of the year to have surgery on a broken hamate bone in his right hand. You can be sure the 2005 third-rounder will be in our upcoming book after the season he had this year. The 19-year-old left fielder hit .276/.395/.497 in 535 plate appearances for low Class A Lake County. He is a remarkably patient hitter who walked in 15 percent of his plate appearances for Lake County. He also struck out in 24 percent of his trips to the plate, but that shouldn’t be too much of a concern because Weglarz has shown the ability to hit for power. Weglarz earned a promotion to high class A Kinston, where he will finish the year helping the Indians try to win their second straight Mills Cup in the Carolina League.

Trevor Cahill, rhp, low Class A Kane County (Athletics)

For the second half of the season, Cahill could not be beat. On July 13, he was 4-4, 4.71 in 50 innings. He then won seven of his next nine starts and finished 11-4, 2.73 in 105 innings with 117 strikeouts.

Desmond Jennings, of, low Class A Columbus (Devil Rays)

Jennings, the No. 7 prospect in the Appalachian League in 2006, had a breakout year with Columbus of the South Atlantic League, hitting .315/.401/.465 in 387 at-bats. A 10th round pick out of Itawamba (Miss.) CC in 2006, Jennings was fourth in the SAL with 45 stolen bases.

BLAST FROM THE PAST
Rick Ankiel, of, Triple-A Memphis (Cardinals)

One of the best feel-good stories around the game in 2007, Ankiel battled his way back to the majors after reinventing himself as a power-hitting outfielder. Hey, any guy who can make Tony LaRussa cry every time he hits a home run obviously has done something remarkable. While he was still in the minors, Ankiel batted .267/.314/.568 with 32 homers in 389 at-bats.

Minors | #2007 #Prospect Hot Sheet

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