League Top 20 Prospects

California League Top 20 Prospects With Scouting Reports




FIVE YEARS AGO
(Click here for the complete list)
1. *Felix Hernandez, rhp, Inland Empire (Mariners)
2. *Matt Cain, rhp, San Jose (Giants)
3. *Erick Aybar, ss, Rancho Cucamonga (Angels)
4. *Carlos Quentin, of, Lancaster (Diamondbacks)
5. *Conor Jackson, of, Lancaster (Diamondbacks)
6. *Elijah Dukes, of, Bakersfield (Rays)
7. *Fred Lewis, of, San Jose (Giants)
8. *Manny Parra, lhp, High Desert (Brewers)
9. Jon Zeringue, of, Lancaster (Diamondbacks)
10. *Jeff Salazar, of, Visalia (Rockies)
*Has played in major leagues
When high Class A California League teams released their roster this spring, one veteran pro scout got his copy and said, "San Jose is the club you want to see. They've loaded that club with all their best guys."

Pro scouts certainly know the way to San Jose. Not only did the Giants finish with 93 wins (one off the minor league lead) and sweep High Desert in the playoff finals, but they also landed four players on our Cal League Top 20 list. San Francisco has assembled one of the most talented systems in the game and it showed with catcher Buster Posey (the league's No. 1 prospect), lefthander Madison Bumgarner (who would have ranked ahead of Posey if he had enough innings to qualify) and a prospect-studded outfield of Thomas Neal, Roger Kieschnick and Darren Ford. Lefthander Craig Clark went 16-2, 2.86 and won the league's pitcher of the year award, but he didn't make the Top 20 because he's 25 and more of a finesse pitcher.

San Jose didn't have a monopoly on Cal League talent. Though the league features many ballparks that favor hitters, several pitchers stood out. Bumgarner and Visalia's Jarrod Parker only made brief cameos before departing for higher levels, but Modesto's Christian Friedrich, Inland Empire's Chris Withrow, High Desert's Phillippe Aumont and Stockton's Pedro Figueroa all showed plus fastballs and nasty breaking pitches.

1. Buster Posey, c, San Jose Giants
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Giants, 2008 (1).
Now that Matt Wieters has graduated to the major leagues, Posey is the top catching prospect in baseball. Hitting .326/.416/.531 and throwing out 49 percent of basestealers at San Jose bolstered his reputation, and he earned promotions to Triple-A Fresno and later to San Francisco.

Posey is a strong and athletic catcher with no obvious flaw in his game. He's a mature hitter with strength, a good setup and the ability to use the entire field. He runs very well for a catcher, is extremely athletic behind the plate and has a slightly above-average arm.

The only question with Posey is how well he'll handle the premium stuff of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in San Francisco. Posey is poised to replace Bengie Molina, an impending free agent, in the majors in 2010.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
291 63 95 23 0 13 58 45 45 6 0 .326 .428 .540
 
2. Christian Friedrich, lhp, Modesto Nuts (Rockies)
Age: 22. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 215. Drafted: Rockies, 2008 (1).
Friedrich ranked second in the minors be averaging 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings between low Class A Asheville and Modesto. Rather than blowing away with velocity, as many strikeout artists do, the imposing 6-foot-4 southpaw misses bats with outstanding secondary pitches.

"He has a 90-91 fastball which can touch 93 and it has natural armside sink," Modesto manager Jerry Weinstein said. "His No. 1 breaking pitch is his curve, which is a plus pitch, but his slider is a plus pitch also. He also has a plus change."
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
14
14 3 2 0 2.54
74
59 25
21 3 28 93
.215
 
3. Jason Castro, c, Lancaster Jethawks (Astros)
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Astros, 2008 (1).
Somewhat of a surprise as the No. 10 overall pick in the 2008 draft, Castro homered in the Futures Game and reached Double-A in his first full pro season. He's not in the same class as Wieters or Posey, but he projects as a solid all-around backstop.

Castro's strengths as a hitter are his contact ability, situational hitting and strike-zone judgment. He uses the whole field and should develop average power. He's a below-average runner but not bad for a catcher.

He doesn't possess a howitzer arm, but Castro led the Cal League by throwing out 59 percent of basestealers, thanks to his footwork and quick release. His receiving skills are fundamentally sound.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
207
27 64 20 1
7 44 30 41 1 1 .309 .399 .517
 
4. Chris Withrow, rhp, Inland Empire 66ers (Dodgers)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Dodgers, 2008 (1).
A first-round pick in 2007, Withrow worked just 13 innings in his first two pro seasons because he had elbow problems. His rust showed this year, but he wowed scouts with his pure stuff.

Withrow averaged 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings with Inland Empire before his promotion to Double-A Chattanooga. His 92-96 mph fastball and curveball are both plus pitches, and his heater was clocked as high as 99. He throws with an easy arm action, which bodes well for his future health.

Withrow needs more command to be a front-line starter, and he'll have to hone his changeup to give him something to play off his power stuff.
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
19
16 6 6 0 4.69
86
80 50
45 3 45
105
.252
 
5. Phillippe Aumont, rhp, High Desert Mavericks (Mariners)
Age: 20. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-7. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Mariners, 2007 (1).
After a sore elbow limited Aumont to 56 innings as a starter in his 2008 pro debut, the Mariners decided to make him a reliever this spring. They believe the role will put less stress on his arm and allow him to reach the majors quicker. He converted 12 of 14 save opportunities for High Desert before earning a promotion to Double-A West Tenn in mid-June.

The towering Aumont has a 95-96 mph fastball with life, especially down in the zone, to go along with a plus slider. He used a splitter as his third pitch as an amateur and now employs a rudimentary changeup, but that pitch is less important now that he's a reliever. His biggest need is to improve his fastball command.
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
29
0 1 2 12 3.24
33
24 14
12 3 12
35
.195
 
6. Alex Liddi, 3b, High Desert Mavericks (Mariners)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 180. Signed: Italy, 2005.
High Desert's Mavericks Stadium, with its dry air and high altitude, is one of the best hitter's park in the minors, with Exhibit A being Lake Elsinore's 33-18 victory there on June 28. Though Liddi benefitted from his home ballpark—he batted .382/.467/.691 there versus .308/.351/.498 on the road—most scouts believe the league MVP and overall minor league batting champion (.345) will continue to hit beyond the Cal League.

Though Liddi is still very slender, he started to turn on more pitches and show more strength this season. An Italian who was part of the initial class of prospects signed out of MLB International's European Baseball Academy, he has added polish in his four pro seasons. He has a chance to have four average or better tools, with speed the only exception.

"He has the whole package," an American League scout said. "He's an excellent defender, nice glove, fine arm. I like the way he competes in every at-bat. He has both hand strength and bat speed."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
493 97 170 44 5 23 104
53 122 10 6 .345 .411 .594
 
7. Pedro Figueroa, lhp, Stockton Ports (Athletics)
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 164. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2003.
A late-blooming lefthander, Figueroa had by far his best season as a pro. He has lost weight over the last two years—though he's about 30 pounds heavier than his listed weight of 164—freeing up his arm and growing into his body.

"He has the best stuff I saw in the Cal League this year," a scout said. "He has a 90-95 mph fastball with plus natural sink, and a nasty 86-88 slider. He also has a plus change, which he uses a lot to get out of jams."

Though he's not big, Figueroa has tremendous arm speed. His biggest issue remains his command, as he gives up too many walks and puts himself in hitter's counts. He'll wind up in the bullpen if that doesn't improve.
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
11
11 3 4 0 3.56
66
62 27
26
3 35 67 .251
 
8. Wynn Pelzer, rhp, Lake Elsinore Storm (Padres)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Padres, 2007 (9).
After an up-and-down college career when he worked both in relief and as a starter, Pelzer has had consistent success in two years as a pro. Scouts still are mixed on whether that will be his long-term role, but they all agree that his stuff can be electric.

Pelzer pounds the strike zone with a heavy 93-95 mph fastball and backs it up with a hard slider that's a potential plus pitch. He also throw a splitter and a mid-70s changeup. He gets lots of strikeouts and groundouts, though he falls behind in the count too often.

"He a plus sinker and slider but he'll need to develop his change more," a scout said. "For him, it's a matter of command. He can be a second or third starter, or a back-of-the-bullpen guy."
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
27
27 11 8 0 3.94
151
134 76
66 6 59
147
.244
 
9. Thomas Neal, of, San Jose Giants
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Giants, 2006 (36).
Neal was the most pleasant and unexpected surprise of the Cal League's 2009 season. After a dislocated shoulder and reconstructive surgery to repair threatened to derail his career before it got going, but he kick-started it last year and truly blossomed in 2009. He led the California League in on-base percentage (.431) and ranked fourth in slugging (.579).

"He's had a tremendous year, a breakout year," San Jose manager Andy Skeels said. "He has lost weight and committed to getting better. His instincts as a hitter are off the charts. He has an advanced idea of the strike zone, and he uses the opposite field extremely well."

Neal's lone plus tool is his bat. He has average power and below-average speed. Both his defense in left field and his arm are decent.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
475 102 160 41 4 22 90 65 98 3 0 .337 .431 .579
 
10. James Darnell, 3b, Lake Elsinore Storm (Padres)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Padres, 2008 (2).
Darnell dominated the low Class A Midwest League at Fort Wayne and was promoted to Lake Elsinore in the second half. He maintained his production in a better hitting environment but against tougher competition.

Darnell's calling card is his quick bat. He's patient at the plate and takes advantage when he's ahead in the count, thanks to his plus raw power. While Darnell has some arm strength, he lacks accuracy on his throws. He moves well for his size, but his footwork may force a move to the outfield.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
235 40 69 18 2 13 43 30 38 3 1 .294 .377 .553
 
11. Roger Kieschnick, of, San Jose (Giants)
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3 Wt. 200. Drafted: Giants '08 (3)
Another member of San Jose's all-prospect outfield, Kieschnick had no problem jumping to high Class A for his pro debut. He ranked second in the league with 110 RBIs and fifth with 68 extra-base hits.

"The ball is very loud coming off of his bat," a scout said. "He has a great body, big and strong. His setup is a bit unorthodox, since he keeps his elbows close together, but he has a short swing. He looks the part of a big leaguer, plus he has a good arm. I see him as a right fielder and a five- or six-hole hitter in the majors."

Kieschnick's biggest weakness is that he gets overly aggressive at the plate and swings and misses too often. He's a good athlete for his size, and he runs and throws well enough to be a solid right fielder.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
517 86 153 37 8 23 110 36 130 9 1 .296 .345 .532
 
12. Cory Luebke, lhp, Lake Elsinore (Padres)
Age: 23 .B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 200. Drafted Padres '07 (1s)
Luebke had a strong overall season, starting for the Cal League in the Cal-Carolina League all-star game, then advancing to Double-A. He wrapped his season in the Team USA rotation, carring a no-hitter into the eighth inning against Canada and starting the gold-medal game against Cuba to help the Americans win the World Cup.

Luebke isn't a strikeout pitcher, but he throws strikes, gets plenty of groundballs and keeps the ball in the park. He walked just 17 batters in 14 Cal League starts, and his 2.34 ERA easily would have led the league had he not been promoted to Double-A before pitching enough innings to qualify.

Luebke features a 90-91 mph fastball, a high-70s curve and an improving changeup that sits around 80 mph. His stuff plays up because he can locate his pitches wherever he wants. "He has everything: great body, good delivery, clean arm," a scout said.
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
14
14 8 2 0 2.34
88
73 24
23 3 17
80
.227
 
13. Tyson Gillies, of, High Desert (Mariners)
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 190. Drafted Mariners '06 (25)
Gillies showcased his blistering speed at the Futures Game in July, where he stole two bases and was clocked in 3.4 seconds to first base while beating out a bunt. He's one of the fastest players in all of baseball, with scouts giving him a rare 80 speed grade (the highest on the 20-80 scouting scale), and he led the Cal League with 44 steals.

Gillies, who has hearing deficiencies that require him to wear hearing aids in both ears, also had a breakout season at the plate. He ranked second in the league in runs (104), hits (170) and on-base percentage (.430). He's a fine defender in center field, with above-average range and arm strength.

His game does have some holes. After getting caught stealing a league-high 19 times, he must improve his reads and jumps. He doesn't have a lot of power and hit just one homer away from Mavericks Stadium. One scout lauded his intensity but said it also can work against him.

"He's a great competitor, always plays hard," the scout said. "I never have a problem getting a running time on him. Whenever he hits the ball, he runs it out all the way. He has a tight body and is very intense. He has a 120 pulse when it should be 60."

"He has a chance to be special. I see him as a sort of Curtis Granderson type, but maybe not as much power."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
498 104 170 17 14 9 42 60 81 44 19 .341 .430 .486
 
14. Alexander Torres, lhp, Rancho Cucamonga (Angels)
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-10 Wt.: 175. Signed: Venezuela '05 (Angels).
Torres breezed through the Cal League, winning his last five starts and the ERA title (2.74), and advanced to Double-A before the Angels traded him to the Rays as part of their payment for Scott Kazmir. Tampa Bay was looking to save money on Kazmir's salary, and they were able to deal a lefthander with quality stuff and pick up another as part of the package in return.

Torres creates good angles with his pitches, the best of which is a low-90s fastball. His curveball and slider both have sharp break and the potential to become plus offerings. He needs to command all of his pitches better, and he's still refining his changeup.

"He's now throwing a two-seamer we haven't seen before," Inland Empire manager Carlos Subero said. "He's aggressive and confident, and has all the intangibles. Torres is effectively wild, but he's learning to establish his offspeed stuff and slider."
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
21
19 10 3 0 2.74
121
93 43
37 4 63
124
.217
 
15. Trayvon Robinson, of, Inland Empire (Dodgers)
Age: 22 B-T: B-R. Ht: 5-10. Wt.: 175  Drafted: Dodgers '05 (10)
Robinson was a hot topic of conversation among scouts at the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic at Petco Park in August. When told Robinson would be on our Cal League Top 20, one National League scout said: "He'd better be! And no one was sure he would hit coming out of high school."

A graduate of Los Angeles' Crenshaw High, Robinson brought remarkable speed, a volatile temper and questionable bat into pro ball. He's still a plus-plus runner progress and retains some rough edges, but the overall transformation has been remarkable.

A career .266 hitter coming into the year, he batted .306 with Inland Empire and finished one steal behind Gillies with 43. He has some surprising pop, though it gets him into trouble because he gets power-conscious. He's a fine defender in center fielder with a fringe-average arm.

"Robinson gets better every year," another scout said. "The ball jumps off his bat, but he strikes out too much. He is way too good an athlete to strike out that much. He should look to go gap to gap more."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
470 82 144 28 9 15 54 50 125 43 18 .306 .375 .500
 
16. Grant Desme, of, Stockton (Athletics)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 205. Drafted: A's '07 (2)
Desme had a breakout 2007 season at Cal Poly and was playing his way into the first round before he broke a bone in his wrist shortly before the draft. A flareup of the wrist problem and a separated shoulder limited him to 49 pro at-bats in his first two years as a pro. When he finally stayed healthy this year, he finished with 31 homers and 40 steals between two Class A stops, making him the only 30-30 man in the minors.

Desme has average to plus tools across the board. Modesto manager Jerry Weinstein is very familiar with him after coaching him at Cal Poly, and said the time Desme lost set him back in terms of pitch recognition, which led to 148 strikeouts this season. Making consistent contact and adding defensive polish are the biggest questions with Desme, who probably will move from center field to a corner in the future.

"His fielding was a bit shaky, but he has improved and it should reach average," Weinstein said. "He projects to a 60 arm with 60 speed, so he fits in right field. His hitting and power both profile to above average, and his raw power is 60 now. He needs to just get at bats and continue to improve."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
227 49 69 12 4 20 51 33 67 16 5 .304 .398 .656
 
17. Logan Forsythe, 3b, Lake Elsinore (Padres)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Padres '08 (1s)
The third pick (supplemental first round) in the Padres' college-heavy 2008 draft class, Forsythe was the highest-drafted member of that group to start the year in Lake Elsinore. He proved too good offensively for the league, posting a stunning .472 on-base percentage before earning a midseason promotion to Double-A. He fits best as a No. 2 hitter who has average speed.

"He still needs to make some adjustments offensively, but he is patient and stays off of bad pitches," Rancho Cucamonga manager Keith Johnson said. "I like his even keel. He just has the demeanor of a big leaguer."

He's skilled in all parts of the game but not overwhelming in any one area. He has a good arm and excellent range at third base, but lacks the power (his is average at best) normally associated with the hot corner. He played second base, shortstop and left field for Team USA, so he has the versatility to move if needed.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
236 46 76 13 3 8 30 61 48 6 2 .322 .472 .504
 
18. Jemile Weeks, 2b, Stockton (Athletics)
Age: 22. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 175. Drafted: Athletics '08 (1)
Though he's very athletic, Weeks lacks the physicality of his older brother Rickie, the Brewers' oft-injured second baseman. Like his older brother, Jemile was a first-round pick and has dealt with injuries as a pro. He began the season in extended spring training, rehabbing a hip injury that cut his 2008 pro debut short after 74 at-bats.

Weeks immediately showed he belonged in the Cal League, hitting safely in his first 22 games and impressing league observers with his ability to turn the double-play pivot. A switch-hitter who was more effective from the left side with Stockton, he has a line-drive swing with the potential for some power as he develops. He has plus speed, though he stole just five bases as he recovered from the hip injury.

"He is very athletic with lots of fast-twitch muscles," Weinstein said. "He has good speed, despite the fact he had some leg problems early on. He's a very athletic second baseman, though he didn't throw well when we saw him."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
201
29
60 9 2 7 31 26 40 5 1
.299 .385 .468
 
19. Craig Italiano, rhp, Stockton (Athletics)/Lake Elsinore (Padres)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Athletics '05 (2)
Italiano struggled as a starter with Stockton (5.63 ERA) but was reborn as a reliever with Lake Elsinore (1.44 ERA) after the Padres acquired him from the Athletics in the Scott Hairston trade. Besides changing his role, San Diego also altered his arm angle, dropping Italiano from over the top to three-quarters. His fastball velocity and slider both improved after he lowered his slot—and scouts already thought both were pretty good.

Italiano's fastball sits in the low 90s and touches 96, and his slider may be a better pitch. He got a fair amount of grounders as a starter, but his 5.7 groundout/airout ratio as a reliever borders on a misprint. His control also improved noticeably, so he's likely to stay in the bullpen as he advances.
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
35
16 5 7 0 4.42
108
107 65
53 6 50
119
.260
 
20. Darren Ford, of, San Jose (Giants)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Brewers '04 (18).
The Giants acquired Ford from the Brewers in the Ray Durham trade in July 2008, and he finished the summer with a rough stretch in San Jose. He repeated the Cal League in 2009 and had his best minor league season in almost every regard.

Ford always has displayed top-of-the-line speed, but this year he showed he could do more than run. He tried to switch-hit at the beginning of the season and had no success, then switched back to batting solely righthanded and hit .354/.414/.563 after the all-star break.

"He has been the biggest surprise of the second half," Skeels said. "If there is a faster guy in baseball, I haven't seen him. He's a top-of-the-lineup guy with a great eye at the plate. His hands are loaded and set higher now, and that helps keep his swing on plane."

Ford has a little pop but just needs to focus on getting on base. He has tremendous range in center field, though his arm is below average.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
380 81 114 17 9 9 50 49 97 35 12 .300 .386 .463