League Top 20 Prospects

2011 Midwest League Top 20 Prospects With Scouting Reports




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FIVE YEARS AGO
1. Jay Bruce, of, Dayton (Reds)*
2. Cameron Maybin, of, West Michigan (Tigers)*
3. Justin Upton, of, South Bend (Diamondbacks)*
4. Colby Rasmus, of, Quad Cities (Cardinals)*
5. Nick Adenhart, rhp, Cedar Rapids (Angels)*
6. Jacob McGee, lhp, Southwest Michigan (Rays)*
7. Jaime Garcia, lhp, Quad Cities (Cardinals)*
8. Wade Davis, rhp, Southwest Michigan (Rays)*
9. Donald Veal, lhp, Peoria (Cubs)*
10. Matt Walker, rhp, Southwest Michigan (Rays)
11. Stephen Marek, rhp, Cedar Rapids (Angels)*
12. Johnny Cueto, rhp, Dayton (Reds)*
13. Bryan Anderson, c, Quad Cities (Cardinals)*
14. Oswaldo Sosa, rhp, Beloit (Twins)
15. John Mayberry Jr., of, Clinton (Rangers)*
16. Justin Sellers, ss, Kane County (Athletics)*
17. Eduardo Morlan, rhp, Beloit (Twins)
18. Paul Kelly, ss, Beloit (Twins)
19. Pedro Ciriaco, ss, South Bend (Diamondbacks)*
20. Jeff Baisley, 3b, Kane County (Athletics)*
*Has played in major leagues.
A 16-team circuit always will have prospect depth just because of the sheer number of teams, but the low Class A Midwest League Top 20 list lacked its usual star power in 2011. Unlike recent years headlined by megaprospects such as Jay Bruce (2006), Clayton Kershaw (2007) and Mike Trout (2010), this year's group consists more of future solid regulars than cornerstone players.

That said, veteran scouts couldn't remember a MWL player with a more electrifying tool than Dayton shortstop Billy Hamilton's speed. To call it game-changing would be an understatement, as opponents were virtually powerless to prevent him from becoming the first minor leaguer in 10 years to steal 100 bases.

Clinton righthander Taijuan Walker, who combines plus raw stuff with athleticism and projection, nosed out Hamilton as the No. 1 prospect on this list. Another righthander, Carlos Martinez, drew comparisons to Pedro Martinez (no relation) and would have given Walker a run for the top spot had he not been promoted after just eight starts for eventual champion Quad Cities.
1. TAIJUAN WALKER RHP, CLINTON LUMBERKINGS (MARINERS)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS—Yucaipa, Calif., '10 (1s).
Walker made a name for himself as a shortstop and basketball forward before blossoming on the mound as a high school senior. His athleticism is obvious, as he repeats his delivery well and unleashes 91-98 mph fastballs with little effort. He locates his fastball well and maintains his velocity deep into games.

Walker significantly improved his fastball command and his curveball between May, when he arrived in Clinton, and August, when the Mariners shut him down after he reached his innings limit. His curve is an absolute hammer at times. His mechanics, changeup and control of his secondary pitches still need more polish, but he didn't turn 19 until August and time is on his side.

"He was a kid out of high school last year pitching against Division I college hitters and making them look pretty bad," Clinton manager Eddie Menchaca said. "That tells you where he could go. There's a lot more there, too. Once he adds a changeup and gets a two-seamer, the sky's the limit."
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
18 18 6 5 0 2.89 97 69 33 31 4 39 113 .202
 
2. BILLY HAMILTON SS, DAYTON DRAGONS (REDS)
Age: 20. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 160. Drafted: HS—Taylorsville, Miss., '09 (2).
The MWL won't soon forget the legend of Billy Hamilton, who stole bases with ease against pitchouts and beat out choppers to the mound. The former Mississippi prep wide receiver can get to first base in 3.8 seconds from the left side of the plate and 3.9 seconds from the right, speed that merits a 90 or 100 on the traditional 20-80 scouting scale.

"He's the most exciting guy I've ever seen in the Midwest League," an American League scout said. "He's the fastest guy I've ever seen. That kid can flat-out fly."

Hamilton recognizes that he has little power and focuses on working counts, hitting the ball on the ground and getting on base. In his second year as a switch-hitter, he hit better lefthanded (.286) than from his natural right side (.259). More impressive, he made adjustments after batting .195 through late May and hit .316 the rest of the way.

The biggest question with Hamilton is whether he can stay at shortstop, where he led the league with 39 errors, or has to move to second base or center field. The miscues aren't the concern, because many come on balls other shortstops can't get to and he'll learn to slow the game down defensively. But his average arm isn't enough to make plays from deep in the hole and his low slot leads his throws to tail and sink.
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
550 99 153 18 9 3 50 52 133 103 20 .278 .340 .360
 
3. JAKE MARISNICK OF, LANSING LUGNUTS (BLUE JAYS)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 220. Drafted: HS—Riverside, Calif., '09 (3).
Overmatched after a promotion to Lansing last August, Marisnick established himself as one of the MWL's best pure hitters in his second tour of the league. No longer easy prey for breaking balls, he does a nice job of hitting the ball where it's pitched and driving it to all fields.

Marisnick has a chance to develop five above-average tools and he has the savvy to match. He already shows a knack for hitting the ball with backspin, steals bases prolifically and efficiently, and makes defense look easy in center field.

"This guy is as good a center fielder as I've seen in a long time," a second AL scout said. "He has a solid approach to hitting. I don't think he'll have plus power, but I gave him a plus arm and plus range."
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
462 68 148 27 6 14 77 43 91 37 8 .320 .392 .496
 
4. NICK CASTELLANOS 3B, WEST MICHIGAN WHITECAPS (TIGERS)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS—Southwest Ranches, Fla., '10 (1s).
Castellanos didn't look like he was worth anything close to his supplemental first-round record $3.45 million bonus in the first four weeks, when he hit .182/.240/.250. Once he settled down and started staying inside the ball and driving it to the opposite field, he batted .339/.403/.475 afterward and led the league with 158 hits.

Some MWL observers thought Castellanos would max out with average power, while others though he could hit 20-plus homers annually once he pulls more pitches and imparts more backspin on them. He's a slightly above-average runner who moves well at third base and has a strong, accurate arm.

"He barrels it up and should have power when he gets stronger," the second AL scout said. "He comes in real well on balls for his age. He could be an all-star. You look at that frame, and the kid could be Scott Rolen."
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
507 65 158 36 3 7 76 45 130 3 2 .312 .367 .436
 
5. RYMER LIRIANO OF, FORT WAYNE TINCAPS (PADRES)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 211. Signed: Dominican Republic, '07.
Liriano couldn't handle the MWL in 2010, batting .193/.234/.293 and getting demoted in June. After struggling in high Class A for the first two weeks of the 2011 season, he returned to Fort Wayne and excelled. He won the league's MVP and prospect of the year awards, and managers decreed him the MWL's more exciting player.

"Last year, he showed all the tools before the game started but they just never played in the game," a National League scout said. "This year, the light bulb went on. He had one of the better combinations of power and speed I've seen in this league and for that age."

A potential 30-30 player, Liriano has a quick swing and present strength. He has plus speed—though he could lose a step as he fills out—and he reads pitchers well and gets good jumps on the bases. His well above-average arm is his most impressive tool, and his entire package prompted comparisons to Raul Mondesi.
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
455 81 145 30 8 12 62 47 95 65 20 .319 .383 .499
 
6. OSCAR TAVERAS OF, QUAD CITIES RIVER BANDITS (CARDINALS)
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Signed: Dominican Republic, '08.
Taveras went 3-for-4 on Opening Day and never stopped hitting, winning the batting title with a .386 average that was the MWL's highest since Deacon Jones' league-record .409 in 1956. His quick, direct swing and excellent hand-eye coordination should allow him to continue hitting for average. His ability to drive the ball from gap to gap portends average power.

"With the aggressiveness of his swing, you'd think he'd swing and miss a lot, but he gets the barrel on the ball," Peoria manager Casey Kopitzke said. "He hits the ball wherever it's pitched. It's pretty impressive."

Taveras played all three outfield positions for Quad Cities and saw the most time in right field, where he fits best with his average speed and solid arm. The only real knock on him is his inconsistent effort level, which got him benched on a few occasions.
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
308 52 119 27 5 8 62 32 52 1 4 .386 .444 .584
 
7. ZACH LEE RHP, GREAT LAKES LOONS (DODGERS)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS—McKinney, Texas, '10 (1).
The Dodgers paid Lee $5.25 million last August to steer him away from playing quarterback at Louisiana State. In return, they got a teenager who exuded polish while making his pro debut in the MWL. He surrendered two earned runs or less in 19 of his 24 starts, with his only hiccup coming when he missed three weeks in May with elbow tightness.

While Lee doesn't dazzle radar guns, he gets good sink on an 88-93 mph fastball and locates it to both sides of the plate. His cutter and changeup will be plus pitches once he makes them more consistent, and he also throws a curveball. League observers praised his mound presence and competitiveness.

"He reminds me a little of Josh Beckett without quite the same power," said Lansing manager Mike Redmond, who caught Beckett with the Marlins. "The stuff is going to be there as he gets stronger."
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
24 24 9 6 0 3.47 109 101 51 42 9 32 91 .242
 
8. JAMES PAXTON LHP, CLINTON LUMBERKINGS (MARINERS)
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Grand Prairie (American Assoc.), '10 (4).
After Paxton failed to sign with the Blue Jays as the 37th overall pick in the 2009 draft, his stuff regressed when he landed in independent ball the following spring. It bounced back quickly, however, after he signed with the Mariners in February and reported to Clinton in late April. He abused MWL hitters for 10 starts before jumping two levels in July and faring even better against Double-A opponents.

Paxton required just six pitches to work a perfect inning in the Futures Game, relying solely on a 93-96 mph fastball. He usually operates at 90-94 with good life on his heater, and managers rated his curveball as the best in the league. He made nice progress with his changeup in his first pro summer.

Paxton's main needs are to throw more strikes and get quicker to the plate. He has a long-armed delivery that allows hitters to see the ball but also creates a difficult angle to the plate.
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
10 10 3 3 0 2.73 56 45 21 17 1 30 80 .225
 
9. MATT SZCZUR OF, PEORIA CHIEFS (CUBS)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Villanova, '10 (5).
Szczur earned MVP honors in the 2009 NCAA football championship subdivision title game and projected as a mid-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft as a wide receiver. After he hit .347 in his pro debut last summer, the Cubs persuaded him to play baseball full-time with a $1.5 million deal in January.

Szczur's best tool is his well-above-average speed, which helps him hit for average, create havoc on the bases and run down everything in center field. He has strong hands and wrists and a knack for barreling the ball, so he could have average power as he learns to get more extension through the ball. His arm has improved considerably since he signed and now rates as solid to plus.

"I love that guy," Menchaca said. "I'll take him any day. He's a tremendous athlete and I also like the way he went about his business. He's just a grinder who doesn't give at-bats away and runs everything out."
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
274 55 86 15 1 5 27 21 28 17 5 .314 .366 .431
 
10. KEYVIOUS SAMPSON RHP, FORT WAYNE TINCAPS (PADRES)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HS—Ocala, Fla., '09 (4).
Sampson spent his first two years as a pro in Rookie and short-season ball, and he battled a labrum tear in his shoulder and a sore elbow in 2010. Everything finally came together for him this season, which he opened with six perfect innings against South Bend and finished as the Padres' top pitching prospect.

Sampson sits at 89-93 mph and tops out at 95 with a fastball that features late run and looks quicker because he throws it with little effort. He maintains very good arm speed on his plus changeup, which has some fade and helped him limit lefties to a .191 average. While his 69-74 mph curveball has some shape and depth, it needs more power and bite.

Though he's not big, Sampson is extremely athletic and repeats his free and easy delivery well. He had no shoulder or elbow issues in 2011, but his control slipped when he tired in the second half.
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
24 24 12 3 0 2.90 118 81 42 38 8 49 143 .192
 
11. CHESLOR CUTHBERT 3B, KANE COUNTY COUGARS (ROYALS)
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190. Signed: Nicaragua, '09.
The MWL's youngest position player, Cuthbert arrived from extended spring training in late May and hit .328/.381/.485 through July before wearing down and fading dramatically in the final month. He has impressive strength and bat speed, especially considering his age. With his advanced approach and willingness to use the whole field, he could develop into a plus hitter for both average and power.

Cuthbert has fringe-average range and a solid, accurate arm at third base. While he's not out of shape, he's already physically mature and has a thick lower half, so he'll have to work diligently to maintain enough agility to stay at the hot corner. He's a well-below average runner whose only alternative may be first base.
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
300 33 80 13 1 8 51 36 65 2 0 .267 .345 .397
 
12. KOLTEN WONG 2B, QUAD CITIES RIVER BANDITS (CARDINALS)
Age: 20. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Hawaii, '11 (1).
While most of the players drafted ahead of him waited until the Aug. 15 deadline to turn pro, Wong signed 10 days after the Cardinals selected him 23rd overall. He quickly settled into the leadoff spot for Quad Cities, showing the quick stroke, line-drive approach and strike-zone command that made him one of the best hitters in the 2011 draft class. He also has more pop than the typical middle infielder, with most of it going to the gaps.

Wong's instincts stand out in all phases of the game. He has slightly above-average speed, runs the bases well and can provide a few steals. He has solid range and arm strength at second base, and managers rated him the MWL's best defender at the position.
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
194 39 65 15 2 5 25 21 24 9 5 .335 .401 .510
 
13. CORY SPANGENBERG 2B, FORT WAYNE TINCAPS (PADRES)
Age: 20. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 185. Drafted: Indian River (Fla.) JC, '11 (1).
The only player drafted ahead of Wong to sign more quickly, Spangenberg agreed to terms with the Padres four days after going 10th overall. He tore up the short-season Northwest League in his introduction to pro ball, then batted just .145/.217/.158 in his first four weeks with Fort Wayne. His true talent showed through once he got acclimated, as he hit .381/.431/.504 in his final month.

Spangenberg is a natural hitter who barrels balls easily and drills line drives to all fields. His plus-plus speed makes him a threat to beat out groundballs and steal bases. Given his skill at the plate, he might develop average power once he adds more loft to his swing.

After Spangenberg played all over the infield as an amateur, San Diego decided to develop him as a second baseman. That's the best fit for his arm slot, because he tends to sling the ball, though he doesn't have classic infield actions. If he can't cut it at second base, he easily runs well enough to move to center field.
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
189 35 54 7 1 2 24 14 42 15 4 .286 .345 .365
 
14. DREW HUTCHISON RHP, LANSING LUGNUTS (BLUE JAYS)
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 165. Drafted: HS—Lakeland, Fla., '09 (15).
In just his second year as a pro, Hutchison graduated from the MWL with four straight scoreless starts in June and finished the season in Double-A, where he allowed two runs while winning all four of his starts. His rapid development and success is a tribute to his advanced feel for pitching, and his stuff isn't bad either.

Hutchinson's fastball runs from 88-93 mph and plays up because he can sink and cut it and locate it to both sides of the plate. His slider and changeup are solid secondary pitches, and he can throw all three of his pitches for strikes. He creates a difficult angle with his delivery, making him tougher to hit.
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
14 14 6 2 0 2.63 72 68 29 21 1 19 84 .245
 
15. ENNY ROMERO LHP, BOWLING GREEN HOT RODS (RAYS)
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 165. Signed: Dominican Republic, '08.
Though Romero lacks the polish of the pitchers ahead of him on this list, his ceiling ranks with any of theirs. Though he struggled to repeat his delivery and command his pitches, Romero ranked second in the MWL in strikeouts per nine innings (11.1) thanks to his power arm.

"It looks almost effortless," Fort Wayne manager Shawn Wooten said. "Then you look up at the radar gun and it's 95, 96, 97 mph."

With a loose, whippy arm, Romero usually pitches at 92-94 mph with his fastball, which has occasional running life. His changeup has its moments, and while he shows some aptitude for spinning the ball, his curveball has a long ways to go. His stuff should get firmer as he fills out his lanky frame.
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
26 26 5 5 0 4.26 114 104 67 54 9 68 140 .245
 
16. DANIEL CORCINO RHP, DAYTON DRAGONS (REDS)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 165. Signed: Dominican Republic, '08.
Corcino reminded several MWL observers of Johnny Cueto, who ranked 12th on this list when he pitched for Dayton five years ago. Both are sub-6-foot righthanders with quick arms and plus fastballs, though Cueto's slider was more devastating when he was with the Dragons.

Corcino's fastball ranges from 91-96 mph, and he can run it on righthanders or get swings and misses up in the zone. That sets up his crisp slider down and away on the left side of the plate, and his changeup shows flashes of becoming an average pitch. Not only does he throw strikes, but when he makes a mistake, he rarely leaves it over the middle of the plate.
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
26 26 11 7 0 3.42 139 128 61 53 10 34 156 .238
 
17. GARRETT GOULD RHP, GREAT LAKES LOONS (DODGERS)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Maize, Kan., '09 (2).
Though Gould got the highest bonus ($900,000) in the Dodgers' 2009 draft class, he spent two years in the Rookie-level Pioneer League and had only middling success. He turned a corner in the MWL and might have led the league in wins if the Dodgers hadn't limited him to 16 innings over his last six starts to keep him under 125 for the season.

Gould had one of the better curveballs in the league, a low-80s breaker with 12-to-6 movement that grades as a plus-plus pitch at times. He sets up his curve with an 88-91 mph sinker that tops out at 94, and he also shows signs of developing an average changeup. His command took a step forward this year, though he must learn to control his emotions on the mound.
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
27 24 11 6 0 2.40 124 102 47 33 8 37 104 .220
 
18. TYLER THORNBURG RHP, WISCONSIN TIMBER RATTLERS (BREWERS)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 185. Drafted: Charleston Southern, '10 (3).
The Brewers have had more success trading for pitchers than developing them, but Thornburg may be about to change that. In his first full pro season, he allowed 12 earned runs in 12 MWL starts and had no problems handling a midseason jump to high Class A.

Though Thornburg's fastball had been clocked in the mid-90s in the past, his signature pitch at Wisconsin was the league's best changeup. He sells his changeup with the same arm speed and action that he uses with his fastball, and it comes to the plate in the upper 70s before it fades late.

Thornburg's fastball sat at 89-92 while he was with the Timber Rattlers, peaking at 94. He has an unorthodox delivery that has prompted some Tim Lincecum comparisons and adds deception. Those mechanics also lead to inconsistency finishing off his curveball, which can get loopy, and have some scouts wondering if they're conducive to the durability needed to remain a starter.
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
12 12 7 0 0 1.57 69 49 14 12 3 25 76 .203
 
19. DEREK DIETRICH SS, BOWLING GREEN HOT RODS (RAYS)
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Georgia Tech, '10 (2).
Dietrich had one of the best power bats in the league, ranking second in extra-base hits (60) and total bases (241), third in homers (22) and fifth in slugging (.502). He's at his best when he lets homers come from his natural strength rather than getting too aggressive and trying to lift balls out of the park. His plate discipline improved in the final two months, when he hit 15 longballs.

There's effort in everything Dietrich does, but he gets the job done and doesn't have a glaring weakness. He has quick hands and uses the opposite field, so he can hit for a good average if he continues to tighten his strike zone. He has below-average speed but isn't a baseclogger.

While Dietrich has played exclusively at shortstop as a pro, a move is in his near future. He has soft hands and solid arm strength but lacks the range and quickness for short. He has a chance to play second base and profiles best defensively at third base.
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
480 73 133 34 4 22 81 38 128 5 7 .277 .346 .502
 
20. DAVID HOLMBERG LHP, SOUTH BEND SILVERHAWKS (DIAMONDBACKS)
Age: 20. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 219. Drafted: HS—Port Charlotte, Fla., '09 (2).
When they traded Edwin Jackson to the White Sox in July 2010, the Diamondbacks received not only an immediate No. 2 starter in Daniel Hudson but perhaps a future No. 3 in Holmberg. His command always has been his strong suit—managers tabbed it the best in the MWL—and his stuff took a step forward this season.

After topping out around 90 in his first two years in pro ball, Holmberg now has an 88-92 mph fastball he can sink and pinpoint on either side of the plate. His cutter/slider also got quicker and better and his changeup continues to grade out as his best pitch. At his best, he has three solid-to-plus offerings and he also shows flashes of an average curveball.
G GS W L SV ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
14 14 8 3 0 2.39 83 65 27 22 3 13 81 .212