League Top 20 Prospects

Carolina League Top 20 Prospects With Scouting Reports




FIVE YEARS AGO
(Click here for the complete list)
1. *Jeff Francouer, of, Myrtle Beach (Braves)
2. *Michael Aubrey, 1b, Kinston (Indians)
3. *Brian Anderson, of, Winston-Salem (White Sox)
4. *Zach Duke, lhp, Lynchburg (Pirates)
5. *Kyle Davies, rhp, Myrtle Beach (Braves)
6. *Brandon McCarthy, rhp, Winston-Salem (White Sox)
7. *Ryan Sweeney, of, Winston-Salem (White Sox)
8. *Brian McCann, c, Myrtle Beach (Braves)
9. Richie Gardner, rhp, Potomac (Reds)
10. *Fernando Nieve, rhp, Salem (Astros)
*Has played in major leagues
For an eight-team league, the high Class A Carolina League featured more than its share of potential superstar talent and depth this season.

In Myrtle Beach outfielder Jason Heyward and Frederick lefthander Brian Matusz, the league featured arguably the best hitting and pitching prospects who appeared in the minors in 2009. Matusz, who moved so quickly that he finished the year in Baltimore, was the best of a strong CL group of lefthanders that also included Wilmington's Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy and Frederick teammate Zach Britton.

Several 2008 first-round picks bolstered the CL with strong performances in their first full pro seasons. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez led Lynchburg to the league's best first-half record (45-24) before his promotion to Double-A, and Kinston third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and Salem righthander Casey Kelly also stood out.

1. Jason Heyward, of, Myrtle Beach (Braves)
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Braves '07 (1).

Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year was a monster on offense and defense, tearing through Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi before reaching Triple-A Gwinnett shortly after his 20th birthday.

"I saw a little bit of everything," Potomac manager Trent Jewett said. "He's the ultimate tools guy that also has a feel for the game. That's something that's very rare."

There's little that Heyward can't do, as he projects at a potential plus-plus hitter with plus-plus power. He has uncanny strike-zone judgment for a hitter his age and can hit for power to all fields, as nearly half of his home runs went to the opposite field.

He has outstanding bat speed and can turn on any fastball, and he also shows the ability to adjust to good offspeed pitches and drive them as well. He has good instincts on the basepaths and runs well for a player his size with average to a tick above-average speed.

While Heyward's offensive tools are spectacular, he's also an above-average defensive right fielder. He has fine instincts and takes good routes to the ball, which gives him plenty of range in right field. He also has an accurate arm with above-average arm strength. 

Heyward's biggest weakness has been staying healthy. He appeared in 99 games this year, missing time in the first half because of a hip flexor injury and in late August after bruising his right heel stepping on first base.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
189 34 56 34 0
10 31 21 30 4 0 .296 .369 .519
 
2. Brian Matusz, lhp, Frederick (Orioles)
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Orioles '08 (1).
Matusz arrived in Frederick with a reputation as a polished pitcher, and he showed why by blowing through the minors and reaching Baltimore in his first pro season. The fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft, he overwhelmed CL hitters with his advanced command and diverse repertoire of above-average pitches.

"He was the best arm I saw this year," a National League scout said. "He's not overpowering, but he had pinpoint command, kept everything low and showed the ability to work the edges of the plate."

Matusz sits at 89-92 mph and touches 94-95 with his fastball. He repeats his clean delivery and spots his heater down in the zone and to both sides of the plate. He commands it well, but his secondary stuff is so advanced that he throws his offspeed pitches nearly as often as his fastball.

His best offspeed pitch is his 81-84 mph changeup, which rates at least a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale and could be better in the future. His 76-81 mph curveball and low-80s slider give him two good breaking balls that grade out anywhere from average to plus, and both can be out pitches.

Matusz still needs to fine-tune his ability to hold runners as he can be a little slow to the plate. Basestealers stole 21 bases in 25 attempts (84 percent) against him, a high clip, especially for a lefty.
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
11
11 4 2 0 2.16
67
56 22
16 5 21 75
.225
 
3. Pedro Alvarez, 3b, Lynchburg (Pirates)
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 235. Drafted: Pirates '08 (1).
After batting .200/.312/.383 in the first five weeks, Alvarez turned his season around in mid-May. He adjusted to the fact that few pitchers wanted to challenge him and improved his pitch selection. He finished strong at Lynchburg, then hit .333/.419/.590 with 13 homers in the second half at Double-A Altoona.

Alvarez's strength and tremendous bat speed lead to well above-average power, and his swing generates good loft. He can be too aggressive at times, but he finished the season with 71 walks and projects as a power hitter with an above-average on-base perentage.

Alvarez's swing can get long, but his strikeouts stem more from his approach and pitch recognition, as pitchers can beat him with offspeed stuff.  He struggles against breaking balls from lefthanders and changeups from righties, which he often either swings through or rolls over for grounders after getting caught out on his front side.

"I like him," an American League scout said. "The contact rate and pitch selection worry me a bit, but that power is the best I've seen this season."

While Alvarez's defense is still a work in progress, several observers said he was better than they expected. Alvarez should be able to remain at third base for the next few years if he keeps his conditioning in check, which he did this year. His hands work well and he has a strong arm. He doesn't have a quick first step and is a well below-average runner, which leads to below-average range, particularly down the line.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
243
38 60 14 1
14 55 37 70 1 1 .247 .342 .486
 
4. Freddie Freeman, 1b, Myrtle Beach (Braves)
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Braves '07 (2).
Advancing through the Braves' system alongside Heyward, Freeman also shows a solid approach and consistently puts together good at-bats. He has an advanced feel for hitting, showing a short stroke for a player his size, good plate coverage, the ability to hit to all fields and a sound two-strike approach.

Freeman can launch balls out of the park with routine in batting practice, but he has more of a gap-to-gap approach and is still learning how to translate his power into game situations. After hitting four home runs in April, he hit just four the rest of the season. He played through a wrist injury in the second half, which hampered him after his promotion to Double-A Mississippi in late June.

Freeman has made significant defensive progress since signing out of high school two years ago. His speed his below average, but he's a slick fielder with good hands.

"Freeman obviously can hit," Salem manager Chad Epperson said, "but he doesn't get enough credit for his glove as well. He's a tremendous first baseman."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
255 43 77 19 0 6 34 26 41 1 4 .302 .394 .447
 
5. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3b, Kinston (Indians)
Age: 20. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Indians '08 (1).
Scouts and managers raved about Chisenhall's pure swing, a compact stroke that's short and quick to the ball with good length through the zone. He doesn't have any major holes, has a good approach, rarely overswings and uses the whole field. He handles offspeed stuff well, showing the pitch recognition and hands to handle good breaking balls.

Chisenhall puts the barrel to the ball consistently, but he's mostly a gap-to-gap hitter. Most of his pop comes to the pull side, as he didn't hit an opposite-field home run all season. He could hit for anywhere from average to above-average power in the future.

An average runner, Chisenhall got mixed reviews for his defense in his first season at third base after moving from shortstop. Those who saw him early said he was a below-average defender, though he made progress as the season wore on. He has good arm strength, and his accuracy improved as he learned to keep his arm slot up on his throws.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
388 59 107 26 2 18 79 37 80 2 1 .276 .346 .492
 
6. Casey Kelly, rhp, Salem (Red Sox)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 194. Drafted:  Red Sox '08 (1).
Kelly began the season in low Class A Greenville, but he was such an advanced pitcher for his age that he received a promotion to Salem in late May. A terrific athlete who likes playing every day as a shortstop, he returned to Greenville in July to do just that, though CL observers only saw him on the mound.

His fastball ranges from 88-93 mph, as Kelly throws a lively two-seamer with sink and run as well as a four-seamer that's harder with less movement. His curveball is a plus pitch at times with occasional 12-to-6 break. His changeup is still developing and is more of a groundball pitch than a swing-and-miss offering, but he throws it with good arm speed.

Kelly's athleticism helps him repeat his simple, compact delivery and command all of his pitches extremely well for his age. He's adept at working the inner half of the plate.
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
8
8 1 4 0 3.09
47
33 21
16
4 7 35 .196
 
7. Mike Montgomery, lhp, Wilmington (Royals)
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Royals '08 (1).
Montgomery began his first full pro season in the low Class A Midwest League, then earned a promotion to Wilmington in late July. He pitched up in the zone a lot with his fastball and had trouble locating his offspeed pitches when he first arrived in Wilmington, but he improved in his last few outings, highlighted by a 6 2/3 shutout-inning performance in his penultimate start, in which he allowed one hit, no walks and struck out 12.

Montgomery pitches at 89-92 mph with his fastball, a four-seamer that touches 94. He began mixing in his offspeed pitches more often as the season progressed, though scouts are mixed on whether his curveball or changeup is better. His curve is a hard downer with good spin and rates as a potential 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale, though he has to get on top of it and command it more. Some scouts project his changeup as a future plus pitch, and he also throws a funky palmball.

For a tall, lanky 20-year-old in his first full season, Montgomery has a good delivery without too many moving parts. He repeats his mechanics well and has good arm action.

"You look at his age, his projectability, his presence—it all aligns," an AL scout said. "He's going to be an above-average major league starter."
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
9
9 4 1 0 2.25
52
38 15
13
0 12 46 .196
 
8. Mike Moustakas, 3b, Wilmington (Royals)
Age: 20. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Royals '07 (1).
While Moustakas' numbers were underwhelming, CL observers were nearly universal in their praise for his offensive tools. His hitting mechanics are solid, with his buggy-whip swing creating excellent bat speed and raw power.

Moustakas is an excellent fastball hitter and doesn't swing and miss excessively, but he needs to become more patient. He's still learning how to hit offspeed stuff, particularly good breaking balls from lefties. He can hit for power to all fields in batting practice but didn't hit homer to the opposite field until late August, as he becomes pull-happy in games.

Moustakas has a tick below-average speed, average range, good hands and a plus-plus arm. His stocky body creates some concerns about his future defensive position and his footwork needs more improvement, but he has made strides to become a solid defender.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
492 66 123 32 2 16 86 32 90 10 6 .250 .297 .421
 
9. Ryan Kalish, of, Salem (Red Sox)
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Red Sox '06 (9).
A broken hamate bone that required surgery in 2007 still lingered last year, when Kalish hit just five home runs. He swung the bat with greater authority this season, launching 18 homers between Salem and Double-A Portland.

Kalish has a line-drive swing and gets the bat head through the zone quickly. He mostly works gap to gap, but he has good strength in his hands and some loft in his swing, so he could grow into average power. He has good pitch recognition and strike-zone discipline.

Kalish shuffled between all three outfield positions, and he showed the ability to get good jumps and reads off the bat at each. A solid-average runner with good arm strength and accuracy, he fits best in right field.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
115 21 35 5 2 5 21 26
20 7 3 .304 .434 .513
 
10. Danny Espinosa, ss, Potomac (Nationals)
Age: 22. B-T: B-T. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Nationals '08 (3).
Espinosa had the best offensive year among CL shortstops, but his defense generated the most excitement around the league. He has a strong, accurate arm and plus range to both sides. He's a slightly above-average runner with good athleticism, body control, agility and durability.

Espinosa showed surprising power at the plate, and his strong hands and leverage should help him continue to hit for average power down the road. A switch-hitter, he has a long swing from both sides of the plate that leads to lots of strikeouts, though he's a better hitter from the left side.

"Will the length of his swing translate at higher levels?" an NL scout asked. "Probably not right now, but he's intelligent enough to make adjustments."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
474 90 125 31 4 18 72 74 129 29 11 .264 .375 .460
 
11. Danny Duffy, lhp, Wilmington (Royals)
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2 Wt. 185. Drafted: Royals '07 (3).
After posting a 1.97 ERA in his first two pro seasons, Duffy took a big step forward this year in learning to be more economical with his pitches. Rather than trying to make a perfect pitch every time, he pounded the strike zone more efficiently, keeping his pitch counts down and allowing him to work deeper into games.

Duffy's fastball has some life, sits in the low 90s and touches 93 mph in the early innings. Later in the game, he'll settle into the 88-92 range. His big-breaking 12-to-6 curveball is an occasional plus pitch that tops out in the mid-70s. He has made progress with his changeup, which is now an average offering with screwball-like action.

"I liked the three-pitch mix," an AL scout said, "especially if he can consistently run the fastball into the low-90s."

Duffy throws slightly across his body, which puts some excess stress on his arm but also adds some deception that allows his fastball to sneak up on hitters. There's some funkiness in his lower half that occasionally hinders his ability to repeat his delivery, but overall he's relatively solid mechanically, throws strikes and has clean arm action.
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
24
24 9 3 0 2.98
127
108 49
42
6 41 125 .230
 
12. Anthony Rizzo, 1b, Salem (Red Sox)
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 220. Drafted: Red Sox '07 (6)
Rizzo missed most of the 2008 season after being diagnosed with limited stage classical Hodgkin's lymphoma, a treatable form of cancer. After finishing chemotherapy treatments in the offseason, Rizzo began the year in low Class A Greenville but advanced to Salem by late June.

Rizzo has a short, compact swing and routinely centers the ball. His bat stays in the hitting zone for a long time, though his swing occasionally gets long, which allows pitchers to beat him on the inner half. He has a solid approach at the plate, showing patience and the ability to use the whole field. He didn't show much power this year, though he should grow into more as he matures.

A below-average runner, Rizzo is an outstanding defensive first baseman with good hands, footwork and actions around the bag.

"I'll take him over Lars Anderson," said a NL scout, alluding to the Double-A first baseman Baseball America ranked as Boston's No. 1 prospect before the season. "Anderson shows more power at this stage, but this is a young kid who can hit and is a much better defender."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
245 40 73 21 0 9 42 25 60 2 1 .298 .365 .494
 
13. Chase D'Arnaud, ss/2b, Lynchburg (Pirates)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 175. Drafted: Pirates '08 (4)
D'Arnaud doesn't have one outstanding tool, but he helped his overall package and ability to play an up-the-middle position are promising.

D'Arnaud has a good approach at the plate, posting a .402 on-base percentage with the Hillcats. He has some bat speed and occasionally will pull a home run—all seven of his homers between two Class A stops went to left field—but his power is below average. He's an average runner with keen instincts on the bases.

A third baseman during his first two seasons at Pepperdine, D'Arnaud moved to shortstop in his draft year. He played shortstop and second base for Lynchburg. Some thought his range might be a touch short for shortstop, but he has a strong arm and managers rated him the CL's best defensive shortstop.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
210 45 62 19 4 4 26 30 41 14 5 .295 .402 .481
 
14. Jordan Danks, of, Winston-Salem (White Sox)
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 210. Drafted: White Sox '08 (7)
Danks spent little time in the Carolina League, but one month was all the White Sox needed to see before promoting him to Double-A for good in May. Danks continued hitting well at Birmingham before wrist and finger injuries took a toll on his numbers.

At the plate, Danks shows good bat speed and a solid swing. Despite his size, he has below-average power, though that could improve as he fills out his 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame. He can be susceptible to offspeed pitches, but he does a good job working the count to get on base and is a good bunter.

Danks' athleticism stands out on the bases and in the field. He's an above-average runner, though he could slow down as he matures physically. He gets good jumps and takes good routes to the ball in center field. He also shows a solid-average arm that will serve him well if he winds up in right field.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
118 25 38 11 2 3 21 18 32 5 1 .322 .409 .525
 
15. Zach Britton, lhp, Frederick (Orioles)
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht: 6-2. Wt.: 172  Drafted: Orioles '06 (3).
Britton continues to fly under the radar, but he won't for much longer if he keeps pitching like he did this season. The CL pitcher of the year, he finished second in the league in ERA (2.70) and strikeouts (131 in 140 innings).

Britton pitches at 88-92 mph with his heavy sinker and tops out at 94 with his four-seam fastball. Britton's sinker is his go-to pitch and he does a good job of pitching down in the zone. Batters struggle to lift his sinker in the air, as evidenced by his 3.38 groundout/airout ratio. He has learned to pitch inside on righthanders with his four-seamer to prevent them from sitting on his sinker on the outer half.

"I liked Britton," a NL scout. "He doesn't necessarily wow you with his fastball, but he's a groundball machine with the ability to miss some bats."

Britton has worked hard to bring his secondary pitches up to par. He has a decent slider, but his below-average changeup still needs more improvement.
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
25
24 9 6 0 2.70
140
123 64
42
6 55 131 .232
 
16. David Lough, of, Wilmington (Royals)
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Royals '07 (11)
An unheralded 11th-round pick in 2007, Lough originally attended Mercyhurst (Pa.) College on a football scholarship. He easily outperformed first-round picks Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas at Wilmington, showing five tools that all grade out as average or better. At 23, Lough was older than most CL prospects, but he continued to perform well after a promotion to Double-A in July.

Lough has a short, quick swing and the strength to hit for average power. He's not particularly patient, but he doesn't strike out much and can take advantage of his strength and speed on balls in play.

With Derrick Robinson in center field, Lough played left field for the Blue Rocks, but he's a plus runner and a good defender who can handle center. He has a strong, accurate arm as well.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
222 28 71 15 2 5 30 12 34 6 4 .320 .370 .473
 
17. Luis Exposito, c, Salem (Red Sox)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Red Sox '05 (31).
After spending the second half of the 2008 season in the California League, Exposito returned to high Class A, this time with Boston's new Salem affiliate. He had a solid season and played even better following a promotion to Double-A.

Exposito's best offensive tool is his power, but swing is long and might not translate to higher levels. He's still learning to cut down on his stroke, especially with two strikes, to be able to use the opposite field. He should hit at least well enough to have a big league role in some capacity. He's a well below-average runner.

With his large frame, Exposito provides a big target for his pitchers. He has strong hands to go with solid blocking skills and footwork behind the plate. His arm strength is above average and he has a quick release, though he threw out a just 27 percent of basestealers between Salem and Portland.

"I think he could be a starter," a NL scout said. "Right now I see him as a solid backup because of the long swing, but he really caught my eye with his catching."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
288 28 78 24 1 6 45 23 49 3 1 .271 .329 .424
 
18. Che-Hsuan Lin, of, Salem (Red Sox)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 180. Signed: Taiwan '07.
The MVP of the 2008 Futures Game, Lin is one of the best minor league prospects from Taiwan. Right now, his tools play better on defense. His plus-plus arm was the best in the CL, and he covers tremendous ground in center field. His pure speed is only a tick above average, but he has a quick first step and excellent instincts.

His offensive game needs to take a leap forward if he's to be more than a reserve outfielder. He has a strong understanding of the strike zone and can work the count, but he got off to a sluggish start in Salem. He shows some bat speed but his power is below average.

"I had Jacoby Ellsbury in 2006, and this kid is right up there with Ellsbury the way he plays center field," Epperson said. "And he loves to show off his arm."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
479
75
127 23 2 7 54 66 75 26 11
.265 .355 .365
 
19. Jeff Bianchi, ss, Wilmington (Royals)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 175. Drafted: Royals '05 (2)
Bianchi batted just .255/.290/.442 in 104 games with Wilmington last year, but he returned to the Blue Rocks and found much greater success. There's nothing flashy about him, but he's steady in nearly every phase of the game.

Bianchi has a short, quick swing and the ability to hit to all fields. His power is below average and he would benefit from being more selective at the plate. He has solid-average speed and is an extremely smart baserunner who's adept at taking an extra base.

After playing mostly second base in 2008, Bianchi moved to shortstop while Johnny Giavotella manned second. Bianchi has enough athleticism and arm strength for shortstop, and he shows more range than expected from a player with his speed.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
220 32 66 12 2 4 28 20 47 12 2 .300 .360 .427
 
20. Brent Morel, 3b, Winston-Salem (White Sox)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 220. Drafted: White Sox '08 (3).
Scouts and managers use words like "throwback," "old-fashioned" and "blue collar" to describe Morel, whose solid tools play up because of his instincts and feel for the game. He was one of the CL's best hitters after the all-star break, batting .304/.361/.496.

Morel puts together quality plate appearances, with managers around the league praising him for his intelligence and preparation. He has a compact, line-drive swing and doesn't strike out much. He mostly works the gaps but has the potential to hit for at least average power in the future.

A good defensive third baseman, Morel has first-step quickness, soft hands and a plus arm. He's a solid-average runner with good instincts on the basepaths.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
481 82 135 33 1 16 79 38 66 25 9 .281 .335 .453