We're in the midst of working on our Minor League Preview issue and one of the associated tasks is updating the organization talent rankings that appeared in the 2008 Prospect Handbook. Those were finalized in mid-December, before a number of trades changed the makeup of several farm systems.
As a sneak preview, I'll let you know that the biggest gain was made by the Athletics. After acquiring eight prospects in deals for Dan Haren and Nick Swisher, Oakland jumped from No. 27 to No. 9. The largest move in the other direction was made by the Mets, who fell from No. 17 to No. 28 after parting with four of their best prospects to acquire Johan Santana.
Since the draft era began in 1965, 20 draftees have gone straight to the majors for their pro debut. The only active member of that club, and the last to do so, was Xavier Nady, who singled off Onan Masaoka in a lone at-bat with the Padres at the end of the 2000 season. But Nady spent all of the next two years in the minors, so he's not the answer to Mitch's question.
Not counting players who came to the United States after playing top-level competition in their native countries and not including minor league rehab assignments, the last player to hold the distinction of spending his entire career in the big leagues was John Olerud, who went straight to Toronto after signing in 1989. But Olerud no longer holds that distinction, because after signing with the Red Sox in May 2005, he spent three games at Triple-A as a tuneup before going to Boston.
Similarly, Pete Incaviglia spent his first 11 pro years in the U.S. and Japanese big leagues before going to the minors while trying to extend his career. Jim Abbott played his first seven full seasons as a pro in the majors before getting some time in Triple-A during a dismal 1996 season.
So with Abbott, Incaviglia and Olerud taking themselves out of consideration, the last player to spent his entire pro career in the majors was Bob Horner. The only other one in the draft era is Hall of Famer Dave Winfield.
Of those three shortstop prospects, I like Culberson the best, though primarily by default. Bocock is a nifty defender and has above-average speed, but he hit .220/.293/.328 in the high Class A California League last year. The Cal League is the best hitter's league in the minors, and I can't imagine anyone who put up those numbers there will ever hit much in the majors.
The Giants are making noise about having Bocock fill in for the injured Omar Vizquel at the start of the season. It really doesn't matter, because San Francisco would be destined for last place even with Honus Wagner at shortstop. But there is zero chance that Bocock's glove and legs will make up for his bat, and why rush him? He hasn't played above high Class A and he's 23.
Burriss somehow managed to perform worse than Bocock in the Cal League, hitting .165/.237/.180.(No, that .180 slugging percentage isn't a typo.) He has game-changing speed, which may give him more on-base ability than Bocock, but he has zero power and an arm better suited for second base.
So given my choice of players currently in the system, I'll opt for Culberson, who was something of a surprise supplemental first-round pick last June. He's four years younger than Bocock and Burriss, and his superior hitting ability could allow him to pass them by at some point in 2009. Culberson has some gap power and a strong arm, while his instincts help his speed and range play up.
As for the draft, teams picking at the top of the draft usually worry about taking the best player available (unless signability is a factor) and not so much about the strengths or weaknesses of the organization. However, Villalona's shift from third base has to decrease the Giants' chances of selecting another first baseman at No. 5. Though Villalona is still just 17 and a ways from the majors, it wouldn't make much sense to take a slugging first baseman who can't move to another position when San Francisco has so many other holes to fill.
Complicating matters is the fact that first basemen represent the greatest strength in this year's draft. When the Giants' pick comes around, Florida high schooler Eric Hosmer, Smoak and Alonso will be three of the most talented players available. The best guess at this point is that San Francisco will opt for a pitcher, with Missouri high school righthander Tim Melville, Eastern Kentucky lefty Christian Friedrich and Fresno State righty Tanner Scheppers among the candidates.
Crow, Russell and Danks are the top three prospects in the Big 12 Conference this year, but far from the only ones. Below is a school-by-school list of players who have a chance to go in the first five rounds of the 2008 draft, with potential first- and second-rounders in 2009 or 2010 in parentheses:
Baylor: SS Beamer Weems (2009: RHP Kendall Volz, OF Aaron Miller, RHP Shawn Tolleson).
Kansas: No candidate.
Kansas State: OF Byron Wiley, LHP Ben Hornbeck.
Missouri: RHP Aaron Crow (2009: RHP Kyle Gibson; 2010: RHP Nick Tepesch).
Nebraska: No candidate.
Oklahoma: RHP Stephen Porlier, RHP Garrett Richards (2009: RHP Andrew Doyle).
Oklahoma State: 3B Matt Hague, RHP/SS Jordy Mercer (2009: LHP Andy Oliver).
Texas: OF Jordan Danks, OF Kyle Russell, C Preston Clark, LHP Austin Wood, RHP Casey Whitmer (2010: RHP Brandon Workman).
Texas A&M: 2B Blake Stouffer, RHP Kyle Thebeau, RHP Alex Wilson (2010: RHP Barrett Loux).
Texas Tech: OF Roger Kieschnick.