Prospect Pulse: Aug. 7

Center field is where the stars are




As the minor league season is winding down—we still have the dog days of August ahead, not to mention the heated but sparsely attended playoffs to see which prospects buy into the concept that their club is somehow bigger than them—it’s time to figure out how the talent has sorted itself out at each position, based on ceiling, performance and prospect status.

In addition to ranking the players at each position, we’ve also rated the relative strength of the positions themselves. Based on star quality, center field is still the deepest, while first base and second base remain thin. We rated the positions on a five-star scale, with five being the best. Players from the 2007 draft are not eligible for these in-season rankings.

Editor's Note: This list was made before Justin Upton, Joba Chamberlain and Adam Jones were promoted to the big leagues and before Brandon Wood was sent back down to Triple-A:

CATCHER
STAR POWER: ★
1.Jeff Clement, Mariners
2.Hank Conger, Angels
3.Bryan Anderson, Cardinals
4.J.R. Towles, Astros
5.Matt McBride, Indians
6.Francisco Hernandez, White Sox
7.Max Ramirez, Indians
8.Max Sapp, Astros
9.Francisco Pena, Mets
10.Taylor Teagarden, Rangers

Clement leads this group based on power potential as well as improved defense. Though he predictably struggled after being promoted to Triple-A following elbow and knee surgeries last season, he has made quick adjustments on both sides of the diamond and is throwing out runners at a 25 percent clip. And as long as he brings that light-tower power to the big leagues and is an OK defender, he’s the best this crop has to offer. Towles is interesting because his bat has come alive after what was supposed to be a temporary promotion to Double-A, as is McBride, who is one of the hardest workers in the Indians system.

FIRST BASE
STAR POWER:
1.Joey Votto, Reds
2.Lars Anderson, Red Sox
3.Daric Barton, Athletics
4.Joe Koshansky, Rockies
5.Jordan Brown, Indians
6.Steven Pearce, Pirates
7.Kala Kaahiue, Braves
8.Kyle Blanks, Padres
9.Chris Carter, Diamondbacks
10.Juan Miranda, Yankees

Votto is the most polished and big league-ready of any first baseman in the minors. That said, Anderson might wind up having the better bat when it’s all said and done. Barton is legitimate, too, but there are still questions about whether he’ll have enough power for the position, even though he’s hit a ton of doubles in Triple-A. Given that he’s a below-average defender, he’s likely just to be OK at the next level.

SECOND BASE
STAR POWER:
1.Matt Antonelli, Padres
2.Chris Coghlan, Marlins
3.Adrian Cardenas, Phillies
4.Eric Patterson, Cubs
5.Alexi Casilla, Twins
6.Corey Wimberly, Rockies
7.Matt Tolbert, Twins
8.Emilio Bonifacio, Diamondbacks
9.German Duran, Rangers
10.Daniel Mayora, Rockies

Not too much to get excited about at this spot, though Antonelli and Coghlan have separated themselves from the pack. Antonelli, the Padres’ first-rounder last year, jumped to Double-A and has held his own in his first full season. Coghlan will be expected to move more slowly, but he has already earned a promotion from low to high Class A, and having the Futures Game on your resume certainly doesn’t hurt. Honorable mention goes to Brian Bixler (Pirates), who’s playing shortstop in Triple-A, but profiles more as a second baseman.

THIRD BASE
STAR POWER: 1/2
1.Evan Longoria, Devil Rays
2.Andy LaRoche, Dodgers
3.Bill Rowell, Orioles
4.Neil Walker, Pirates
5.Ian Stewart, Rockies
6.Chase Headley, Padres
7.Wes Hodges, Indians
8.Mat Gamel, Brewers
9.Angel Villalona, Giants
10.Chris Davis, Rangers

Big stars lead the top five of this group, even after Ryan Braun and Alex Gordon graduated to the big leagues, with Longoria leading the way. While the Devil Rays third baseman is the biggest lock for future success, LaRoche could get another chance to prove himself this season with the way Wilson Betemit is playing at Chavez Ravine. Rowell has big-time power, Walker has proven himself in his first season at a new position, Ian Stewart is Ian Stewart and don’t take anything away from Headley, who has been a very pleasant surprise in the Padres system this season as one of the best hitters in the Texas League.

SHORTSTOP
STAR POWER:
1.Reid Brignac, Devil Rays
2.Chin-Lung Hu, Dodgers
3.Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
4.Hector Gomez, Rockies
5.Carlos Triunfel, Mariners
6.Elvis Andrus, Braves
7.Brent Lillibridge, Braves
8.Jed Lowrie, Red Sox
9.Sean Rodriguez, Angels
10.Jason Donald, Phillies

While there is star power here, there are also questions about whether some of these prospects will ultimately end up at shortstop. Brignac has made adjustments in Double-A this season and continues to get a better feel as he grows into his body, but he has also made 19 errors this season, most among Southern League shortstops. Hu, on the other hand, has always been known as a defensive wizard, but his bat is catching up with his glove this season and he led the SL in batting. Cabrera, taking a step backward after playing in Triple-A, still has upside as a 21-year-old. Honorable mention goes to Astros shortstop Tommy Manzella, whose glove impressed everyone in the Carolina League, and his bat woke up after he was promoted to Double-A.

CENTER FIELD
STAR POWER: ★
1.Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
2.Cameron Maybin, Tigers
3.Adam Jones, Mariners
4.Colby Rasmus, Cardinals
5.Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
6.Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
7.Gorkys Hernandez, Tigers
8.Dexter Fowler, Rockies
9.Brian Barton, Indians
10.Cedric Hunter, Padres

Automatically, the star power of this group hits the top of the scale with names like Upton and Maybin on it, but really, it’s hard to argue with any of the top five prospects on the list. McCutchen has had a tough time adjusting to Double-A pitching, but all the tools are there. Fowler won’t likely play again until the Arizona Fall League, and Jones has posted the finest numbers in this group.

CORNER OUTFIELD
STAR POWER: ★
1.Jay Bruce, Reds
2.Travis Snider, Blue Jays
3.Chris Marrero, Nationals
4.Fernando Martinez, Mets
5.Jose Tabata, Yankees
6.Carlos Gonzalez, Diamondbacks
7.Wladimir Balentien, Mariners
8.Brandon Jones, Braves
9.Tyler Colvin, Cubs
10.Will Venable, Padres

While Bruce is now regarded as a can’t-miss big league star—scouts compare him with Larry Walker—Snider has spent all year in low Class A, and some scouts still have questions about Marrero hitting at higher levels. Injuries could play into the ultimate ceilings of both Martinez and Tabata, and Gonzalez simply has not played well this season. In the long run, Balentien or Jones might be the best players from the second half of the top 10.

RIGHTHANDED STARTERS
STAR POWER: ★
1.Homer Bailey, Reds
2.Clay Buchholz, Red Sox
3.Joba Chamberlain, Yankees
4.Deolis Guerra, Mets
5.Wade Davis, Devil Rays
6.Johnny Cueto, Reds
7.Carlos Carrasco, Phillies
8.Jeff Niemann, Devil Rays
9.Adam Miller, Indians
10.Eric Hurley, Rangers

As you might expect, you can find plenty of depth among righthanded starters, especially when arms like Nick Adenhart (Angels), Ian Kennedy (Yankees) and Rick Vanden Hurk (Marlins) don’t even make the top 10. Bailey remains the top pitching prospect in the minors until his next shot in Cincinnati, no matter how much Buchholz has risen this season. Chamberlain has a great overall arsenal of pitches; Guerra could be a monster if everything comes together; and Davis is a dominant pitcher in the making.

LEFTHANDED STARTERS
STAR POWER: ★
1.Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
2.Jacob McGee, Devil Rays
3.Franklin Morales, Rockies
4.Chuck Lofgren, Indians
5.Gio Gonzalez, White Sox
6.Troy Patton, Astros
7.Brett Anderson, Diamondbacks
8.Kasey Kiker, Rangers
9.Garrett Olson, Orioles
10.Donald Veal, Cubs

One of the toughest commodities to come by in the big leagues, lefthanded pitching is actually deep in talent in the minor leagues now, and Kershaw and McGee lead the way. Kershaw gets the nod over McGee based on his arsenal of pitches. McGee could profile as a power reliever if he doesn’t develop his changeup, but his upper-90s fastball is enough to drive hitters crazy in any role. The same goes for Morales, who hits 97 mph regularly and features a hammer curveball. He’ll be relegated to a relief role if he can’t harness his command and improve his changeup. Lofgren doesn’t have the best stuff but varies speeds on four quality pitches, which puts him ahead of the harder-throwing Gonzalez or Patton, who’s had a strong season in Double-A.

RELIEVERS
STAR POWER: ★
1.Radhames Liz, Orioles
2.Jim Hoey, Orioles
3.Jonathan Meloan, Dodgers
4.Oswaldo Sosa, Twins
5.Matt Bush, Padres
It’s impossible to truly test players for the closer role until they’re in the big leagues, and often minor league closers end up as set-up men or long relievers in the big leagues. That’s why only two of our top five are currently working out of bullpens right now. Still, Hoey’s 97-98 mph fastball and deadly slider are formidable, and one scout said he has better pure stuff than O’s closer Chris Ray. Liz has four quality pitches, but he would be more effective if he didn’t have to pace himself as a starter. In fact, he might best fit the future closer profile—outstanding movement on all his pitches, and command of his 95-97 mph fastball to both sides of the plate. Though his command has been erratic at times, Liz carries his velocity deep into games. While he could start with a heater, curveball, slider and changeup, Meloan might be better off harnessing his aggression in shorter spurts. The same goes for Sosa, who has a power fastball and slider and pitches down in the zone consistently. Bush is the enigma of this group. And it now looks like the only way the Padres will see a return on their investment is if they allow him to focus on one- or two-inning stints, just rearing back and firing 95-96 mph fastballs.

QUICK HITS

• Orioles righthander Brandon Erbe has gone through growing pains this season at high Class A Frederick. In his second full year, the 2005 third-round pick has had some tough outings, including a recent effort at Kinston when he allowed five earned runs on six hits over 42⁄3 innings in a 9-3 loss. He showed his usual outstanding fastball velocity, sitting in the low 90s and topping out at 96, and showed flashes of a plus slider and changeup. He lacked command or any kind of consistency.

“He moves his fastball to both sides, but there wasn’t much life on it for it being in the mid-90s,” a scout from an American League club said. “He pounds the zone with it, but with as straight as it is, guys can turn it around at this level. I like the slider a lot. Good depth and nice late bite to it. His changeup might be his best pitch down the road, when he learns to hit his spots with it consistently. But right now, there isn’t much consistent about anything he’s doing.”

Erbe was 6-5, 6.25 through 91 innings, with a 83-52 strikeout-walk ratio.

“Not too many guys who are 19 are at this level,” Frederick manager Tommy Thompson said. “He’s had a couple bad outings, but he’s had some dominating outings, where his stuff was major league right now. You see it in there and you wish you saw it more, but you have to sit back and be patient. His time is going to come. He’s going to be special.

“Between his makeup, his athleticism, his work ethic and his stuff, he’s going to be a phenom. He’s going to be a stud.”

• Just days after introducing 2007 first-round pick Joe Savery as the newest member in the Phillies fold, Philadelphia got bad news in the form of 2006 first-rounder Kyle Drabek. An MRI revealed Drabek’s elbow—which bothered him on and off all season—had a damaged ligament, and the 19-year-old had Tommy John surgery July 25 in New York. In his first full season, Drabek went 5-1, 4.33 in 54 innings at low Class A Lakewood.