Mark Prior, who was Stephen Strasburg before Strasburg, is back in Organized Baseball. Prior hadn't pitched since 2006 and had undergone two shoulder surgeries before joining the Orange County Flyers of the independent Golden League in August. The Rangers bought his contract on Friday and sent him to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he made his first appearance on Sunday.
Prior threw 28 pitches in a scoreless inning, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out two. His fastball sat at 90-91 and touched 92 mph, down from when he was one of the majors' top young pitchers with the Cubs, but he pronounced himself happy nonetheless.
"I'd get up to 95 or 96, but I usually pitched between 92-93," Prior told The Oklahoman (Oklahoma City). "If I needed to go back and get something, I'd go get it. I don't have that anymore, but for the most part everything's the same as far as the pitches that I throw and the way that I use them. That hasn't changed. Now, will that change? I don't know yet."
All in all, the AFL rosters have their usual amount of talent. The pitching always looks light because teams rarely send quality starters who have pitched a complete minor league season, and this year is no exception. But there are plenty of intriguing hitting prospects to watch. For instance, the Peoria Javelinas have five (!) quality middle infielders in second basemen Dustin Ackley, Jason Kipnis and Cord Phelps and shortstops Jose Iglesias and Adeiny Hechavarria.
I couldn't limit myself to just 10 prospects, so instead I'll present my preseason AFL all-prospect team, along with others to watch at each position:
Devin Mesoraco, c, Reds (Peoria Saguaros)
Others: Derek Norris, Nationals (Scottsdale); Austin Romine, Yankees (Phoenix); Tony Sanchez, Pirates (Mesa)
Eric Hosmer, 1b, Royals (Surprise)
Others: Brandon Belt, Giants (Scottsdale); Freddie Freeman, Braves (Phoenix); Jerry Sands, Dodgers (Phoenix)
Dustin Ackley, 2b, Mariners (Peoria Javelinas)
Others: Jason Kipnis, Indians (Peoria Javelinas); Brett Lawrie, Brewers (Surprise); Cord Phelps, Indians (Peoria Javelinas)
Josh Vitters, 3b, Cubs (Mesa)
Others: Brandon Laird, Yankees (Phoenix)
Jose Iglesias, ss, Red Sox (Peoria Javelinas)
Others: Grant Green, Athletics (Phoenix); Adeiny Hechavarria, Blue Jays (Peoria Javelinas)
Brett Jackson, of, Cubs (Mesa)
Jared Mitchell, of, White Sox (Peoria Saguaros)
Trayvon Robinson, of, Dodgers (Phoenix)
Others: Engel Beltre, Rangers (Surprise); Joe Benson, Twins (Peoria Saguaros); Marc Krauss, Diamondbacks (Scottsdale); Ben Revere, Twins (Peoria Saguaros); Michael Taylor, Athletics (Phoenix)
Mike Montgomery, lhp, Royals (Surprise)
Others: Danny Duffy, Royals (Surprise); Sammy Solis, Nationals (Scottsdale)
Brandon Beachy, rhp, Braves (Phoenix)
Others: Chris Carpenter, Cubs (Mesa); Alex Cobb, Rays (Peoria Saguaros)
Chance Ruffin, rp, Tigers (Surprise)
Others: Jeremy Jeffress, Brewers (Surprise); Philippe Valiquette, Reds (Peoria Saguaros)
The Nationals Top 10 has undergone much change. As Mark notes above, three of the top four prospects from the preseason list have moved onto the big leagues. Four of the first five guys on my Top 10 below weren't in the organization at the start of the year.
Though he leads the Washington system with 30 homers and 110 RBIs, I couldn't find room for Moore on the list. He's old for high Class A at 23, he doesn't control the strike zone well and Chris Marrero and Michael Burgess have a better chance to contribute in the majors as corner bats. I don't have great feel for Cuban defector Yuneski Maya, who profiles as a crafty righthander with average stuff.
My Top 10:
1. Bryce Harper, of
Has monster power, though he won't match Strasburg's immediate impact.
2. Wilson Ramos, c
Matt Capps trade freed Ramos from being blocked by Joe Mauer with Twins.
3. Derek Norris, c
Still needs to polish bat and defense, but he has power and on-base ability.
4. A.J. Cole, rhp
First-round stuff earned him $2 million as a fourth-rounder.
5. Sammy Solis, lhp
Don't be surprised if the $1 million second-rounder outperforms Cole.
6. Danny Espinosa, ss
Solid defender has cannon arm and surprising pop (40 HR in 2009-10).
7. Chris Marrero, 1b
Best proven all-around bat in system, though little defensive value.
8. Brad Peacock, rhp
Runs his fastball up to 95, flashes solid knuckle-curve and changeup.
9. Michael Burgess, of
Power potential remains impressive, but will he make enough contact?
10. Yuneski Maya, rhp
Former Cuban national team ace got $8 million big league contract.
Though we rated Heyward and Freeman as the Braves' two best prospects entering 2010, the strength of the system still was pitching depth. That's even more apparent now, though Freeman probably won't get enough big league at-bats in September to lose his prospect/rookie status.
The only holdover position prospect with a bright future is catcher Christian Bethancourt. He had a rough season in low Class A, but he's only 18. He makes contact and has some power potential, and he also has Gold Glove potential behind the plate. Outfielder Cody Johnson has some of the best pure power in the minor leagues, but I don't think he'll ever hit consistently.
The Braves did address their lack of position players in the draft, and I like their first four picks. Shortstop Matt Lipka (sandwich round) has tremendous speed and athleticism, and he's a better hitter than most former two-sport stars. Outfielder Todd Cunningham (second) is a pure hitter who won the 2009 Cape Cod League batting title and has a solid package of tools.
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons (second) is an outstanding defender, though his mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slider eventually could lead him to the mound. Third baseman Joe Leonard (third) was one of the best college hitters in the draft and could develop average power.
Another Braves newcomer whom I like a little bit is shortstop Tyler Pastornicky, part of the Yunel Escobar/Alex Gonzalez trade with the Blue Jays. It remains to be seen whether Pastornicky will hit enough to be a regular rather than a utilityman, but he's a solid defender with plus speed and lots of savvy.