League Top 20 Prospects

South Atlantic League Top 20 Prospects With Scouting Reports





FIVE YEARS AGO
(Click here for the complete list)
1. *Scott Elbert, lhp, Columbus
2. *Neil Walker, c, Hickory
3. Marcus Sanders, ss, Augusta
4. *Troy Patton, lhp, Lexington
5. *Ryan Braun, 3b, West Virginia
6. *Philip Hughes, rhp, Charleston
7. *Blake DeWitt, 3b, Columbus
8. *Matt Harrison, lhp, Rome
9. *Yunel Escobar, ss, Rome
10. *Brandon Jones, of, Rome
11. *Jimmy Barthmaier, rhp, Lexington
12. *Gio Gonzalez, lhp, Kannapolis
13. *Mark Rogers, rhp, West Virginia
14. *Greg Golson, of, Lakewood
15. *Hunter Pence, of, Lexington
16. *Collin Balester, rhp, Savannah
17. J.T. Restko, of, Greensboro
18. Gaby Hernandez, rhp, Hagerstown
19. *Ian Desmond, ss, Savannah
20. *Chris Nelson, ss, Asheville
*Has played in major leagues
Baseball America's League Top 20 lists are generated from consultations with scouts and league managers. To qualify for consideration, a player must have spent at least one-third of the season in a league. Position players must have one plate appearance for every league game. Pitchers must pitch 1/3 inning for every league game, and relievers have to have made at least 20 appearances in full-season leagues and 10 in short-season ones.

ASHEVILLE, N.C.—Minor league teams rarely have a convergence of top young talent and winning. That's particularly true in the lower levels, where the better teams often have older rosters, and where prospects tend to get promoted if they're making progress.

Lakewood has been an exception to the rule the last two years. The 2010 BlueClaws featured one of the low Class A South Atlantic League's younger clubs, yet went 84-55, won both halves in the Northern Division and gave up nine runs in seven playoff games en route to repeating as champions. First baseman Jonathan Singleton ranked as the No. 1 prospect on our SAL Top 20 Prospects list, on which he was joined by teammates Brody Colvin, Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Villar, Trevor May and Sebastian Valle.

"I could watch them play every day," Greensboro manager Andy Haines said. "They had so much talent, but what I liked was the way they played so hard. (Manager) Mark (Parent) did an outstanding job with that team. Their players had talent, but you could see them getting better and better every time we faced them."

Rome righthander Julio Teheran would have beaten out Singleton for the top spot on this list if he hadn't been promoted in mid-May before he could qualify. Teheran, who showed a 92-96 mph fastball and plus curveball, had to settle for ranking No. 1 on our Carolina League list.

1. Jonathan Singleton, 1b, Lakewood Blueclaws (Phillies)
Age: 18. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 220. Drafted: HS—Long Beach, 2009 (8th round).
Managers and scouts loved what they saw in the 18-year-old middle-of-the-lineup hitter. Singleton ranked third in the league in on-base percentage (.393) and fourth in slugging (.479). His other numbers don't jump out, but his potential and total package do.

"He's as polished a hitter as you'll see at his age," Haines said. "He has great plate discipline and makes impressive adjustments every time he goes up to the plate. Back in June, he hit two doubles off Matt Montgomery, including a laser to right field. In the seventh, we brought in Jose Ceda and pitched him differently, and Singleton took him out of the park to left. With a guy like that, you just tip your cap."

Singleton currently sprays hard line drives to all fields, and he has the size, strength and bat speed to develop significant power over time. He drew comparisons to Ryan Howard and Frank Thomas, with the bonus of better athleticism. Singleton moves well for his size and displays excellent footwork and soft hands at first base.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
376 64 109
25 2 14 77
62
74 9 7
.290
.393 .479
 
2. Nolan Arenado, 3b, Asheville Tourists (Rockies)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HS—El Toro, Calif., 2009 (2nd round).
After finishing in last place in the season's first half, Asheville made a strong run at the playoffs before falling short on the final weekend. Arenado, who joined the Tourists from extended spring training on May 21, was a major reason for the turnaround. He batted .379 with six homers in the final month.

Despite his late start, Arenado finished second in the league with 41 doubles, and scouts believe many of those doubles will clear the fence as he adds loft to his swing. He displays solid hand-eye coordination and makes consistent hard contact. He has a well above-average arm at third base, but his speed, range and lateral movement are below average.

"When Jared Clark went down, Arenado was our big bat and teams pitched around him," Asheville manager Joe Mikulik said. "He showed great patience, and he's an excellent two-strike hitter who lays off the tough pitches. With his approach, he's going to put up some numbers."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
373 45 115
41 1 12 65
19
52 1 3 .308 .338 .520
 
3. Tyler Matzek, lhp, Asheville Tourists (Rockies)
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HS—Capistrano Valley, Calif., 2009 (1st round).
Like Arenado, Matzek gave Asheville a midseason boost. Signed for $3.9 million as the 12th overall pick in the 2009 draft, he made his pro debut with the Tourists on May 24. His contributions were limited by the Rockies' desire to keep him close to 90 innings, but he allowed two runs or fewer in 13 of his 18 starts.

Though he has an easy delivery and sat mostly at 88-92 mph in his early SAL starts, Matzek's fastball reached the mid-90s later in the season and jumps on hitters with late life. His curveball, slider and changeup all show promise, but he needs more consistency with all of his pitches. He also needs to improve his control and command after averaging 6.2 walks per nine innings.

"He showed a nasty changeup in the pen but not in games," Mikulik said. "His slider has a chance to be a plus pitch, and he needs to command his fastball better. He was just getting his feet wet this year. Once he gets some momentum going, he could move fast."
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
18
18
5 1 0 2.92
89
62
31 29 6 62 88 .204
 
4. Brody Colvin, rhp, Lakewood Blueclaws (Phillies)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS—Lafayette, La., 2009 (7th round).
Lakewood had a loaded rotation, with Colvin, Cosart and May all ranking among the SAL's top starting pitching prospects. Observers liked Colvin the best because of his workhorse frame and the way all of his pitches tend to jump just prior to reaching the plate.

"He threw three pitches for strikes against us," Haines said. "He has a real durable body with a fastball that sits at 93 to 95. His changeup is good and his breaking ball is a little slurvy, but we're talking about a guy who just turned 20 and has a real good idea of what he's doing on the mound."

One scout thought Colvin may profile better as a reliever because he throws across his body, but didn't rule him out as a starter and like the way he rose to the situation late in one outing. Colvin opened the seventh inning by allowing a walk and a double, then responded by hitting 97 mph for the first time all evening and retiring two batters with changeups in 2-1 counts.
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
27
27
6 8 0 3.39
138
138
73 52 7 42 120 .258
 
5. Robbie Erlin, lhp, Hickory Crawdads (Rangers)
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS—Scotts Valley, Calif., 2009 (3rd round).
Erlin signed too late in 2009 to make his pro debut, so the Rangers envisioned him pitching in short-season ball this year. But Hickory manager Bill Richardson liked what he saw in spring training, and persuaded the organization to let Erlin break camp with Hickory. He moved into the rotation in mid-May and led the league with a 2.12 ERA and 7.4 K-BB ratio.

Erlin doesn't overwhelm hitters with size or strength, but he knows how to set them up. He has plus command of an 88-91 mph fastball that touches 93, and he can throw his plus curveball and solid changeup at any time in the count.

"I've never seen a 19-year-old throw the opposite pitch than what the hitter's expecting more often than he does," Richardson said. "Scouts will question his size, but the intangibles that he brings to the mound are what really impress me. His pitches have good movement and he knows what to do with what he has."
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
28
17
6 3 0 2.12
115
89
37 27 9 17 125 .213
 
6. Arodys Vizcaino, rhp, Rome Braves
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 190. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2007 (Yankees).
After joining the Braves in the Javier Vazquez trade last winter, Vizcaino teamed with Teheran to give Rome the SAL's most devastating pair of starters in the early season. He earned a promotion a month after Teheran did, though a partially torn elbow ligament limited Vizcaino to three starts in high Class A. He avoided surgery and did return for a brief outing with Rome in September.

When healthy, Vizcaino shows a 92-94 mph fastball that touches 96, a hammer curveball and excellent control. His changeup continues to improve and could give him a third plus pitch.

"He learned how to pitch while he was here," Rome manager Randy Ingle said. "There's a lot of electricity in his arm, but he wasn't using it properly early on. He worked hard with Zak (pitching coach Jim Czajkowski) and the light came on."
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
14
14
9 4 0 2.39
72
63
25
19 1 9 68 .229
 
7. Jarred Cosart, rhp, Lakewood Blueclaws (Phillies)
Age: 20.B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS—League City, Texas, 2008 (38th round).
Cosart was the hardest thrower among the Lakewood starters, with his fastball registering as high as 98 mph. That velocity comes with effort in his delivery, however. He has yet to pitch a full pro season, missing part of 2009 with shoulder soreness and getting shut down this June with elbow issues.

"He pounds the strike zone and has excellent command," a National League scout said. "But I have concerns about his delivery. It's unorthodox and there's a lot of violence. As hard as he throws, I'd like to see him clean up his mechanics."

Besides his fastball, Cosart also operates with a solid curveball and changeup. He has good athleticism but will have to work harder in order to reach his potential.
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
14
14
7 3 0 3.79
71
60
34 30 3 16 77 .224
 
8. Jonathan Villar, ss, Lakewood Blueclaws (Phillies)
Age: 19. B-T: B-R.Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2008.
Villar was the key player for the Astros in the deal that sent Roy Oswalt to the Phillies in July. Though he made 42 errors in 100 games with Lakewood before the trade, that did little to harm his reputation at shortstop. He has incredible range, soft hands, plus arm strength and a knack for knowing where the ball is going before it's put in play.

The concern regarding Villar comes at the plate. A natural righthanded hitter who has shown more pop from the left side since becoming a switch-hitter, he needs to tone down his approach and focus on getting on base. Once he does, he can make use of his above-average speed and aggressive instincts.

"I saw him in the Dominican a few years ago and he has really improved while adding strength to his body," Lexington manager Rodney Linares said. "He moves well with excellent range. I think he'll hit as he learns to play the game."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
371 61
101
18 4 2 36 26
103 38
13 .272 .332 .358
 
9. Reymond Fuentes, of, Greenville Drive (Red Sox)
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 165. Drafted: HS—Manati, P.R., 2009 (1st round).
Fuentes made some impressive adjustments during his first full pro season. He closed some holes in his swing and made better contact during the second half. He hits line drives from gap to gap, and scouts believe he'll drive the ball more consistently and hit for some power as his body matures.

Fuentes draws comparisons to Carlos Beltran, his cousin, with his fluid movements and natural instincts in center field. He puts his plus speed to good use on defense as well as on the basepaths. His arm strength is his weakest tool, though he makes accurate throws and charges the ball well.

"He's an electric player," Augusta manager Dave Machemer said. "He's a pure center fielder who gets great jumps on balls. He carries himself with a quiet confidence, much like Beltran. His ceiling is really high."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
376 59 101
15 5 5 41
25
87 42
5
.270
.328 .377
 
10. Chad James, lhp, Greensboro Grasshoppers (Marlins)
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS—Yukon, Okla., 2009 (1st round).
The 18th overall pick in the 2009 draft, James brings a lot to the mound. His fastball resides at 91-95 mph, setting up a plus changeup with excellent fade and depth. He also has a hard slider with some sharpness that could give him a third above-average pitch.

All of his offerings have heavy sink, which is why James allowed just three homers despite pitching his home games in the bandbox that is NewBridge Bank Park. He loses focus on occasion and doesn't always attack hitters, which is why he got knocked around more than someone with his stuff should.

"He's got a great frame and he has power stuff," Haines said. "He's a strike-thrower with a quick arm. Early on he gave hitters too much credit and it cost him. He just needs to pitch, and I believe once he does he's going to be a front-of-the-rotation guy in the big leagues."
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
24
24
5 10 0 5.12
114
116
70
64 3 65 105 .269
 
11. Trevor May, rhp, Lakewood Blueclaws (Phillies)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HS—Kelso, Wash., 2008 (4th round).
May opened the season by going 5-5, 5.01 in three months in the high Class A Florida State League. He was dominant at times but struggled to find the strike zone. With Lakewood, he was just as overpowering and did a much better job of throwing strikes. He finished strong, allowing just one run and striking out 21 over 12 innings in two playoff starts.

May has plenty of sink and armside run on his 91-94 mph fastball. Both his curveball and changeup could develop into above-average offerings if they gain more consistency. He needs to remember not to overthrow and do a better job of keeping his mechanics together when he works out of the stretch.

"I could see him jumping to Double-A," Parent said. "He knows what he's got to do and he's working hard to do it. He keeps getting stronger, and once he gains a consistent feel for all of his pitches, he's going to be fine."
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
11
11
7 3 0 2.91
65
51
22 21 3 20 92 .214
 
12. Zack Wheeler, rhp, Augusta Greenjackets (Giants)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS—Dallas, Ga., 2009 (1st round).
Problems with blisters on a finger on his pitching hand hindered Wheeler in his first pro season. The sixth overall pick in last year's draft, he missed two months and spent a third in the bullpen. He did recover to rejoin Augusta's rotation in mid-August and went 2-0, 3.27 in his last five starts.

Wheeler has a low-90s fastball that tops out at 97 mph and jumps out of his hand, with late, heavy life down in the strike zone. His curveball, changeup and control all lack consistency, but he should have three solid or better pitches once he's fully developed. Some observers questioned his arm action because they thought it wasn't very clean, but they admitted his delivery creates deception.

"He came back real well and finished the season great," Machemer said. "He has a lot to learn, especially in terms of getting ahead of the hitters, but his arm strength and his fastball make him a potential No. 1 or 2 starter down the road."
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
21
13
3 3 0 3.39
59
47
27
26
0 38 70
.218
 
13. Cesar Puello, of, Savannah Sand Gnats (Mets)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2007.
Puello rebuilt his swing over the course of his first year in a full-season league. He went from a crouch that looked as if he were trying to sit, to a more upright stance with his hands positioned further back, preventing pitchers from beating him inside. He hit .346/.424/.430 in the second half before missing the final three weeks with a strained lower back.

Puello flashes all five tools, most notably plus speed that enabled him to steal 45 bases in 55 attempts. He has good arm strength and range in right field. He sprays line drives from gap to gap, and though he homered only once in 2010, scouts believe he'll hit hit for decent power once his body matures.

"He's an impressive guy," Greenville manager Billy McMillon said. "He's a big guy with speed and some power potential and maybe a .300 hitter. He has a very strong arm and he plays hard all the time. There's a lot to like."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
404 80 118
22 1 1 34 32
82 45 10 .292 .375 .359
 
14. Christian Bethancourt, c, Rome Braves
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 175. Signed: Panama, 2008.
The mention of Bethancourt's name generated comments from one extreme to the other in the SAL. One manager said he would pay just to watch Bethancourt catch and throw, and he erased 39 percent of basestealers while showing soft hands and good agility behind the plate. But others thought he was an overrated defender who set up too high and relied too much on his plus-plus arm strength, and some believed he lacked the fire and leadership desired in a major league catcher.

Bethancourt didn't turn 19 until the end of the season, so he still has plenty of time to address his flaws. Offensively, he has a short stroke but needs to show more patient. Though he showed only minimal power, he should be able to drive balls more consistently as his body matures.

"He grew up during the last month of the season," Ingle said. "He showed a lot of improvement in his work habits and his maturity, and those things transferred to the field. He has all the tools you'd ever want to see for a guy behind the plate, and he needs to continue to do the day-to-day things to get the most out of his talent."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
399 31
100
19 2 3 34 14
62 11 3 .251 .276 .331
 
15. Robbie Ross, lhp, Hickory Crawdads (Rangers)
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HS—Lexington, Ky., 2008 (2nd round).
Another undersized lefthander who starred for Hickory, Ross has more overpowering stuff than Erlin if not quite as much savvy. He does have a great deal of polish, though, as he pitches to both sides of the plate and keeps the ball down in the zone. He's not afraid of throwing strikes and letting hitters put the ball in play, using his stuff to generate groundouts.

With a quick arm, Ross mixes a 90-93 mph fastball that he can cut and sink along with a low-80s slider. His changeup needs work and he runs into trouble when he leaves his pitches up, lessons he learned after a promotion to the hitter-friendly California League.

"He learned how to pitch this year and that's what got him to the next level," Richardson said. "He has some funk about him, but funk can work. He did everything you want a pitcher to do, including keeping the ball down and pitching at a good tempo."
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
16
16
8
7 0 2.59
94
89
38 27 2 20 62
.245
 
16. Drake Britton, lhp, Greenville Drive (Red Sox)
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HS—Tomball, Texas, 2007 (23rd round).
After signing for $700,000 as a 23rd-round pick in 2007, Britton blew out his elbow eight games into his pro career and needed Tommy John surgery. The Red Sox handled him carefully this year, limiting him to no more than five innings per start, yet that was enough for him to show dominant stuff at times.

Britton's fastball sits at 92-94 mph and features good sink. He also has a big-breaking curveball that he can throw for strikes, and a changeup that has the makings of becoming a solid pitch. He throws strikes from a clean high three-quarters delivery and pitches beyond his limited pro experience.

"He had one of the best breaking balls in the league," Mikulik said. "He has a great idea of sequence. He may have been the best pitcher in the league at setting up hitters. He throws three pitches for strikes and adds and subtracts from his pitches really well. There's a lot to like about that young man."
 
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
21
21
2 3 0 2.97
76
69
32 25 5 23 78 .240
 
17. J.D. Martinez, of, Lexington Legends (Astros)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 175. Drafted: Nova Southeastern, 2009 (20th round).
When Martinez pounded SAL pitching early in the season, cynics said he was a 22-year-old taking advantage of younger, inexperienced opponents. He never relented, leading the league in hitting (.362), on-base percentage (.433) and slugging (.598), then proceeded to hit .302/.357/.407 after a mid-July promotion to Double-A.

The league MVP, Martinez has outstanding pitch recognition and the uncanny ability to make adjustments during at-bats. Linares called him one of the best curveball hitters he ever has seen. Martinez projects to hit for solid average and power, and he's a serviceable outfielder with fringy speed and an accurate arm.

"He had as good an approach as anyone I saw in the league," McMillon said. "He drove the ball to all fields and did a real good job of barreling up on his pitch. He knew what he wanted to accomplish when he went to the plate and more often than not, he did it."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
348 83 126
31 3 15 64
33
55 3 0
.362
.433 .598

18. Slade Heathcott, of, Charleston Riverdogs (Yankees)
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS—Texarkana, Texas, 2009 (1st round).
Regardless of how managers and scouts felt about Heathcott's talent, they all agreed on one thing: he plays the game hard. A throwback player who attracted comparisons to Lenny Dykstra and Brett Gardner, he combines strength, speed and fast-twitch athleticism.

Heathcott's most impressive tool is his speed, though he currently lacks the instincts to make the most of it on the bases and in center field. He shows some patience and unrealized power potential at the plate, but his swing needs a lot of work. His bat doesn't stay in the hitting zone for long and he struck out 101 times in 298 at-bats. His arm strength is a plus.

"I think he learned what kind of player he is this year," Mikulik said. "He needs a lot of polish, but there's a lot to work with there."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
298 48 77
16 3 2 30
42
101 15 9
.258
.359 .352
 
19. Sebastian Valle, c, Lakewood Blueclaws (Phillies)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 170. Signed: Mexico, 2006.
Valle stands out the most defensively, especially with the way he handled the SAL's hardest-throwing staff. He has solid catch-and-throw skills and good footwork (though he tends to shift too early), and he blocks balls well. He threw out 33 percent of basestealers.

"He's got a great build for a catcher," Hagerstown manager Matt LeCroy said. "He does a lot of things well, including throwing the ball. He moves around real well back there, and he's got some power at the plate that will continue to improve."

Valle spent two months in the league last year, and those who saw him then thought his hitting approach regressed. He put up better numbers in 2010, but he wrapped his bat well behind his head and the upper and lower halves of his body rarely worked together in his swing. He showed the ability to use the middle of the field during batting practice, but he focused solely on power and was a straight pull hitter in games.
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
447 51
114
28 1 16 74
27
101 3
2 .255 .298 .430
 
20. Chris Dominguez, 3b, Augusta Greenjackets (Giants)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R.Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 240. Drafted: Louisville, 2009 (3rd round).
Two outstanding tools and a solid full season made Dominguez a favorite among league managers and several scouts. He led the league in RBIs (101) and total bases (255) while ranking second in homers (21) and extra-base hits (57).

Dominguez won four consecutive conference and summer league home run titles in college and can hit a ball as far as almost anyone. His powerful swing has some length to it, however, and polished pitchers can take advantage. He did show more patience than he did in his 2009 pro debut, though at 23 he was also old for the SAL.

He also has well above-average arm strength and moves well for a big man, giving him a chance to stick at third base. His speed on the basepaths is fringe average.

"He hits the ball as hard as anyone I've ever managed," Machemer said. "He needs to shore up his strike zone, but he has average tools across the board with two that are off the charts."
 
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
559 85 152
32 4 21 101
35
133 14 7
.272
.326 .456