Midwest League Top 20 Prospects
Quarter of outfielders produces Midwest League's dream class
|FIVE YEARS AGO|
|1. *Adrian Gonzalez, 1b, Kane County (Marlins)|
|2. *Justin Morneau, 1b, Quad City (Twins)|
|3. *Wily Mo Pena, of, Dayton (Reds)|
|4. *Clint Nageotte, rhp, Wisconsin (Mariners)|
|5. *Chris Narveson, lhp, Peoria (Cardinals)|
|6. Garett Gentry, c, Michigan (Astros)|
|7. *Jamal Strong, of, Wisconsin (Mariners)|
|8. *Chris Burke, ss, Michigan (Astros)|
|9. *Miguel Cabrera, ss, Kane County (Marlins)|
|10. *Grady Sizemore, of, Clinton (Expos)|
|*Has played in major leagues|
The low Class A Midwest League has offered some strong outfield crops in recent years, including groups featuring Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns in 2000 and Carlos Gonzalez and Travis Buck last season. But the MWL never has seen outfielder talent to match what it had in 2006.
Dayton's Jay Bruce, West Michigan's Cameron Maybin, South Bend's Justin Upton and Quad Cities' Colby Rasmus--all high school first-round picks from the 2005 draft--spent their first full season terrorizing MWL pitchers and wowing everyone else. Trying to separate them as prospects wasn't easy, but a consensus of scouts and managers gave the nod to Bruce because of his hitting prowess.
"Jay Bruce has the best chance to hit among all those outfielders," a National League scout said. "I saw Larry Walker in Triple-A, and Jay is comparable. He has a plus bat, plus arm and runs better than people think. His instincts for the game at an early age are outstanding. With his plate coverage, pitch recognition and going about being a professional, he has a chance to be very special."
The outfielders aside, the league's pitching was much deeper in talent than its position players. That said, the choice for the MWL's best mound prospect was clear cut, with Cedar Rapids righthander Nick Adenhart a nearly unanimous pick as he continues his swift comeback from Tommy John surgery.
The Top 20 list also featured stronger bloodlines than usual. Upton (B.J.) and Rasmus (Cory) have brothers who also were first-round picks, and Clinton outfielder John Mayberry Jr. is part of a father-son first-round tandem. Kane County shortstop Justin Sellers’ father Jeff pitched in the majors, while Southwest Michigan righty Wade Davis is the cousin of former all-star and current Peoria manager Jody Davis.
|1.||Jay Bruce, of, Dayton (Reds)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 205 Age: 19 Drafted: Reds '05 (1)|
|Bruce's ability to hit for average and power stand out the most among the stud outfielders and among his toolset. He sees pitches well with his very quiet approach, and he uses natural lift to drive them from left-center to the right-field foul pole. His stroke is very quick if a bit long at times, and he led the MWL in doubles (42) and extra-base hits (63). He drilled a tape-measure homer during a MVP performance in the league all-star game.|
"The thing that's most impressive with Jay is it's real easy power," Dayton manager Billy Gardner said. "His bat stays in the strike zone really well. He's also advanced with his instincts and adjustments."
There are other dimensions to his game. He's a slightly above-average runner whose speed plays up on the basepaths and in the outfield. He gets outstanding jumps, allowing him to easily reach balls in center field, though he projects more as a strong-armed right fielder once he fills out.
|2.||Cameron Maybin, of, West Michigan (Tigers)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 200 Age: 19 Drafted: Tigers '05 (1)|
|Maybin had the best all-around tools in the league, earning nods from the managers as the MWL's best and fastest baserunner and its most exciting player while also drawing votes as the top hitting prospect and best defensive outfielder. He also hit .343 in the postseason, helping West Michigan win the championship with a pair of clutch triples that turned around the final series versus Kane County.|
Upton and Maybin were the two best athletes available in the 2005 draft, with Upton considered more polished at the plate. Despite playing in the league's toughest hitter's park, Maybin outhit him by 41 points. He'll take some ugly swings on occasion, but his zone awareness and ability to make adjustments were better than expected. With his bat speed, big-time power awaits.
"He displays incredible bat speed through the strike zone," Lansing manager Ken Joyce said. "He also plays the game hard and plays the game right. He's just a talent, the best I've seen since Delmon Young in the South Atlantic League a couple of years ago."
|3.||Justin Upton, of, South Bend (Diamondbacks)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 205 Age: 19 Drafted: Diamondbacks '05 (1)|
|The No. 1 overall pick in 2005 and the recipient of a then-record $6.1 million bonus, Upton broke into pro ball by going 7-for-14 in big league camp this spring. After arriving in South Bend, he only unveiled his considerable talent in flashes.|
Upton took the best batting practice in the league, pounding pitches all over the park with an explosive swing, then grooved his stroke for pull power during games and looked more ordinary. He has plus-plus speed but rarely ran out groundballs and was an indifferent basestealer. Moving from shortstop to center field, he showed plenty of range and arm strength but didn't put in the work necessary to improve his reads or throwing accuracy.
"He knows his talent will get him to the big leagues," a second NL scout said. "Just doing what he's doing now, he should be a good big leaguer. But I wish he played the game hard. If he did, he'd be fun. Those tools are special."
|4.||Colby Rasmus, of, Quad Cities (Cardinals)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 6-1 Wt: 175 Age: 20 Drafted: Cardinals '05 (1)|
|At 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, Rasmus is the least physical of the outfielders at the top of his list. But he's not lacking for tools by any means. He already hits for power and average, and once his frame adds another 20 or 30 pounds, pitchers will have to duck and cover. He's not quick out of the box, but he's a plus runner underway and should be at least a 20-20 threat in the majors. He also has the ability to pick up extra hits via the bunt.|
A star two-way player on the 2005 high school national champions, Rasmus has a cannon arm that fits in right field and the range and instincts to play center. Scouts compared him to Steve Finley and Von Hayes.
|5.||Nick Adenhart, rhp, Cedar Rapids (Angels)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 185 Age: 20 Drafted: Angels '04 (14)|
|Just two years removed from elbow surgery that cost him his status as arguably the top high school pitcher in the 2004 draft, Adenhart was the only MWL pitcher who could show three plus-plus pitches. When he left for high Class A at midseason, he led the league in wins and ranked second in ERA as a 19-year-old.|
MWL observers were divided over which was his best offering. They had to choose between an effortless 93-95 mph fastball, a deceptive 81-84 mph changeup and a 75-76 mph curveball. The curve is his least consistent pitch because he sometimes overthrows it, but it buckles knees when it's on.
Scouts expect him to fine-tune his command with more experience, and their only minor concern is that he still puts some stress on his elbow in his delivery. He pitched a career-high 158 innings without a problem, though he faded late in the California League.
|6.||Jacob McGee, lhp, Southwest Michigan (Devil Rays)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190 Age: 20 Drafted: Devil Rays '04 (5)|
|Southwest Michigan had three potential aces on its pitching staff, all high school picks from the 2004 draft. McGee has the most electric arm in the league, and as a bonus he's lefthanded. He led the MWL with 171 strikeouts and topped all full-season southpaws by averaging 11.5 whiffs per nine innings.|
McGee's best pitch is a lively 90-94 mph fastball that touches 96, and he's not afraid to pound it inside against righthanders. His changeup is a step ahead of his curveball at this point, and both should become at least average pitches at time. His stuff moves so much that it's hard to hit but also hard to command, though he should figure that out in time.
|7.||Jaime Garcia, lhp, Quad Cities (Cardinals)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200 Age: 20 Drafted: Cardinals '05 (22)|
|Garcia was headed toward oblivion after being disappointed when the Orioles drafted him in the 30th round in 2004, getting out of shape and dropping his fastball to the low 80s. The Cardinals gave him a second chance as a 22nd-rounder in 2005, and he responded by making the Futures Game in his pro debut this year.|
Garcia's body is fairly maxed out at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, but he already has the stuff to succeed in the majors. His out pitch is a 74-78 mph curveball that he'll use in any count, and he keeps hitter more than honest with a 91-94 mph sinker that comes out of his hand with ease. His changeup is becoming a solid third pitch but needs more work, as does his command within the strike zone.
|8.||Wade Davis, rhp, Southwest Michigan (Devil Rays)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt: 220 Age: 20 Drafted: Devil Rays '04 (3)|
|Davis mixed spectacular with mediocre performances. He was the MWL's hottest pitcher in April and May, got knocked around in June and July, then finished with his best month in August. He pitched a seven-inning no-hitter in his final start, taking a 1-0 loss on an unearned run.|
At his best, Davis showed a 92-95 mph fastball that peaked at 98, a plus 11-to-5 curveball and an effective changeup. He throws all of his pitches from the same arm slot and gets good life down in the strike zone.
Davis ran into trouble when he pitched backward. Told to work on his secondary offerings, he did so to an extreme and saw his fastball dip to 88-91 mph. He doesn't repeat his delivery well and falls off toward first base, but he still has the potential for three plus pitches.
|9.||Donald Veal, lhp, Peoria (Cubs)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 6-4 Wt: 215 Age: 21 Drafted: Cubs '05 (2)|
|A second-round pick in 2005, Veal already has passed first-rounder Mark Pawelek as the top pitching prospect in the Cubs system. He continued to deal after a promotion to high Class A and led all full-season starters with a .175 opponent average between the two stops.|
Veal has a strong 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame, a volatile fastball clocked at 91-94 mph and a promising changeup. But he doesn't repeat his mechanics with much consistency, and at times he had to drop into the high 80s to throw strikes.
His delivery may make it difficult to develop a reliable breaking ball, and he's still trying to decide whether to throw a slow version for strikes or a harder version as a chase pitch. He throws the two breakers with two different motions, which doesn't help his cause.
|10.||Matt Walker, rhp, Southwest Michigan (Devil Rays)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 193 Age: 20 Drafted: Devil Rays '04 (10)|
|A college football prospect as a quarterback, Walker is more raw than McGee and Davis. He began the year in extended spring training and didn't join them in Southwest Michigan until mid-June. Once he arrived, he unveiled the MWL's best curveball and allowed more than two earned runs just twice in 15 starts.|
Walker will overthrow at times but is starting to realize that he can overpower hitters with his normal stuff. His curve, which one scout called the best in the league, has true 12-to-6 break, and hitters can't look for it too much because he can bust them with a 92-94 mph fastball. His changeup should give him at least a usable third pitch.
|11.||Stephen Marek, rhp, Cedar Rapids (Angels)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 200 Age: 23 Drafted: Angels '04 (40)|
|The San Jacinto (Texas) pitching staff was so deep and his command so erratic that Marek redshirted for a season in junior college and relieved in his other two, yet his talent was such that the Angels gave him an $800,000 signing bonus as a draft-and-follow last May. Given a chance to become a starter in pro ball, he has seized it. He led the MWL in ERA (1.96) and was just as spectacular as Adenhart at Cedar Rapids and after their promotions to high Class A.|
No longer considered just a thrower, Marek showed two plus pitches and a feel for a third. He hit both sides of the plate with his 88-93 mph fastball, which features late action. His heater reached as high as 98 mph at San Jacinto, and he could achieve more velocity as he gets more accustomed to pro ball and a starter's workload.
Some scouts believe Marek's hard curveball is better than his fastball, and he was willing to use it in any count. He also located his changeup well and hitters can't dare look for it instead of his power stuff. He repeated his delivery, threw strikes and competed well.
|12.||Johnny Cueto, rhp, Dayton (Reds)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 174 Age: 20 Signed: Reds FA '04|
|He wasn't quite the second coming of Homer Bailey, but Cueto gave Dayton a live-armed righthander to build its rotation around for the second straight year. While Bailey was making a case for being the best pitching prospect in the minors, Cueto was exceeding Bailey's 2005 performance in the MWL.|
Cueto stands just 5-foot-11, but scouts believe he has a chance to make it as a starter because he has athleticism, long arms and a stress-free delivery that allow him to throw 88-95 mph fastballs that explode on hitters. He maintains his velocity deep into games, and at times his mid-80s slider is outstanding. He's aggressive and throws quality strikes.
In order to stay in the rotation, Cueto will need to get more consistent with his changeup and develop more feel and command with it. He likes to work high in the strike zone, which he won't be able to get away with as often at higher levels.
|13.||Bryan Anderson, c, Quad Cities (Cardinals)|
|B-T: L-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 190 Age: 19 Drafted: Cardinals '05 (4)|
|Anderson is a teenage catcher who provides offense, hits lefthanded as a bonus and shows some promise on defense. But more than any of his tools, what stood out the most was the way he ran an older Quad Cities pitching staff.|
"He's by far the best catcher in the league, offensively and defensively," said West Michigan manager Matt Walbeck, who caught for 11 seasons in the majors. "What I like most about him is that he handles his pitching staff very well. He calls a good game, he's very quiet behind the plate and he's very young. He reminds me of Mike Matheny a little bit."
Anderson has more offensive potential than Matheny, hitting for average, controlling the strike zone very well and providing gap power. His arm strength is average at best, though he makes accurate throws and erased 36 percent of basestealers this year. He receives well but is working on improving his blocking skills.
|14.||Oswaldo Sosa, rhp, Beloit (Twins)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 225 Age: 20 Signed: Twins FA '02|
|For three years running, the Twins' affiliate has featured more pitching prospects than any club in the league. Sosa was the best of this season's crop, outshining righthanders Eduardo Morlan, Yohan Pino, David Shinskie, Kyle Waldrop and Zach Ward and lefties Brian Duensing and Alexander Smit.|
Sosa mixes his four-pitch repertoire well, starting with an 88-94 mph fastball with that cuts, sinks and darts. His sweeping slider rates as a plus pitch at times, and he had good command of a fair changeup. His curveball is his fourth option, used mainly to give hitters a different look.
Sosa uses his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame and a high three-quarters arm slot to drive all of his pitches down in the strike zone. Hitters don't center the ball well against him, touching him for only one homer in 118 innings with Beloit. He exudes confidence on the mound and pitched well following a promotion to high Class A.t
|15.||John Mayberry, of, (Rangers)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-6 Wt: 230 Age: 22 Drafted: Rangers '05 (1)|
|Like the first four players on this list, Mayberry is an outfielder and a 2005 first-round pick. Though he's the lone college player among the group and the son of a former all-star, Mayberry has a surprising lack of refinement.|
Athletic and graceful, the 6-foot-6, 230-pounder has the raw power to hit 35-40 homers per year. But his swing is long and he has holes on the inner half of the plate, so there are concerns as to how productive he'll be against quality pitching. He did make adjustments and recognize pitches better as the season progressed, and created cause for optimism by batting .304 with 11 of his 21 homers over the final two months.
"The physical package is just what you're looking for from a scouting standpoint," an American League scout said. "He looks like Dave Winfield, he's a great athlete and he'll the hit the ball as far as anyone you'll see. But he's not as polished as you'd think, and while he has impact power, how usable is it going to be?"
Mayberry played a lot of first base at Stanford, so he's learning the outfield. He has the speed and plus arm to play right field, but he needs to improve his jumps and angles on flyballs and his accuracy on throws.
|16.||Justin Sellers, ss, Kane County (Athletics)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 5-10 Wt: 160 Age: 20 Drafted: Athletics '05 (6)|
|Last year, Cliff Pennington was everyone's favorite gamer in the MWL. This season, Sellers inherited that mantel as well as Pennington's job as Kane County's shortstop.|
The league's best defender at short, Sellers has the range, hands and moxie to make all the plays. At 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds he looks more like a batboy than a threat in the batter's box, but he handles the bat well and wasn't overmatched. He needs to mature physically and cut down his huge swing, and he should be able to do that with time.
"He's the best baseball player this league has had in five years," the second NL scout said. "He'll hit and he has some surprising pop. He's a plus shortstop, arm, runner and makeup. He can flat-out play. He's my favorite player, not the best but my favorite, in the Midwest League."
|17.||Eduardo Morlan, rhp, Beloit (Twins)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 178 Age: 20 Drafted: Twins '04 (3)|
|When he was at his very best, Morlan ranked with the top pitchers in the league. One scout said Morlan turned in one of the three best performances he saw all year, along with Adenhart and Cueto. Cedar Rapids manager Bobby Magallanes said Morlan touched 97 mph in the ninth inning of an 11-strikeout complete game.|
He began the season in the bullpen, and that may be his long-term destination. His fastball usually sits in the low 90s but he's still seeking a consistent second pitch. He owns a mid-80s slider that shows flashes of bite and a developing changeup.
Morlan has a quick arm and a smooth delivery that he repeats easily. He tends to drop his elbow, which causes his pitches to flatten out and arrive higher in the strike zone. He missed most of July with a sore shoulder but returned to pitch 22 scoreless innings over his final four starts.
|18.||Paul Kelly, ss, Beloit (Twins)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 185 Age: 19 Drafted: Twins '05 (2)|
|Kelly succeeded 2004 first-round pick Trevor Plouffe as Beloit's shortstop, and MWL observers liked Kelly more. A 2005 second-rounder, Kelly has better physical tools and is a superior hitter. He kept getting better as the year wore on until a torn meniscus in his left knee ended his season in late July.|
Kelly is more advanced than most teenage hitters. He has a solid approach, recognizes breaking balls, uses the whole field and has a plan with two strikes. He didn't show much power this summer but will have some pop once he adds some strength and experience.
He'll hit enough to be a regular, though at what position is uncertain. Kelly has fringe-average speed, which cuts down on his range, but his positioning and cannon arm--he was clocked at 94-95 mph as a high school pitcher--allow him to make plays.
"I always judge a shortstop by if he has to use his arm or not," Beloit manager Jeff Smith said. "His glove is so good and he's always in position, so he never has to use it. And he has one of the best arms in the league, too."
|19.||Pedro Ciriaco, ss, South Bend (Diamondbacks)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 150 Age: 20 Signed: Diamondbacks FA '03 |
|While Kelly is steady, Ciriaco is spectacular but also erratic. Though he had one of the MWL's strongest infield arms and was one of its fastest players, he stole just 19 bases in 27 attempts and led the minors with 45 errors.|
"He has God-given talent," Joyce said. "He might have the best arm strength in the league. It's right there with (2004 No. 1 overall pick) Matt Bush, and he's more accurate and gets to more balls than Bush."
Still learning to apply that talent, Ciriaco plays out of control at the plate and in the field. He chases pitches out of the strike zone, gets his feet tangled up on defense and commits mental as well as physical mistakes. But he has the hand-eye coordination to hit, and the physical skills to excel in all aspects of the game if he slows himself down.
|20.||Jeff Baisley, 3b, Kane County (Athletics)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 210 Age: 23 Drafted: Athletics '05 (12)|
|The league MVP, Baisley did it all. He led the MWL in runs (86) and RBIs (110, the second-highest total in the minors) and also was the circuit's best defensive third baseman. |
Baisley is a very good situational hitter who doesn't try to do too much. He has a balanced stance, sound swing and pitch-recognition skills, enabling him to drive balls from gap to gap. He moves better than most 6-foot-3, 210-pounders, showing range to both sides, and has a solid arm.
The biggest knock against him was his age: 23, ancient for low Class A. The Athletics are also high on fellow third baseman Myron Leslie (Baisley's former South Florida teammate), who was ensconced in high Class A, so they left Baisley at Kane County. "It's an absolute crime that kid played there for the entire season," a second AL scout said.