For the next 16 business days, we'll unveil one league Top 20 Prospects list after another, starting with the Rookie-level Arizona League today. Detailed scouting reports and a chat with the writer will accompany each list, as usual.
And as always, if you have a question to ask about those Top 20 lists—or any other baseball subject—direct it to [email protected] (and please include your full name and hometown). I answer three questions every Monday and I've taken your queries here since July 2001. Keep them coming.
The California League inflates numbers more than any other circuit, but that's still an impressive performance for a 20-year-old. As Dustin mentioned, Pederson had a banner second half, batting .328/.410/.595 with 16 homers and 18 steals in 65 games. That helped him earn a berth on Israel's World Baseball Classic qualifier team, on which he's the youngest player.
In the past, I had viewed Pederson as a grinder with a chance for one plus tool in his bat, the type of guy who profiles as a fourth outfielder. He's more than that, not necessarily a future all-star but a guy who could be a quality regular with a good bat, solid power and speed and the chance to play center field.
Pederson, $42 million man Yasiel Puig and 2012 first-round pick Corey Seager are the best position players in the Dodgers system. I'd rank Puig and Seager ahead of him because they have more upside, but Pederson has proven more in the minors at this point.
Northern teams moving into conferences stacked with warm-weather powers face an uphill battle. Certainly, cold-weather teams have proven they can compete in geographically diverse conferences. In the last decade, we've seen Kansas (2006, 2009), Kansas State (2009-10) and Nebraska (2002-03, 2005-08) make regionals out of the Big 12; Oregon (2010, 2012), Oregon State (2005-07, 2009-12) and Washington State (2009-10) do it in the Pac-12; and Boston College (2009) advance from the ACC. But only the Cornhuskers and Beavers, two programs that have made multiple trips to Omaha in this century, have been able to sustain a consistent level of regional-caliber play as cold-weather teams in a warm-weather conference. And Nebraska (now in the Big Ten) has been in rebuilding mode for the last several years.
Boston College is the best parallel for Notre Dame because it completed a move from the Big East to the ACC. (All those other programs had much longer histories in their power conferences, though Oregon had a three-decade layoff.) Coach Mik Aoki did an admirable job building the Eagles into a regional team in their fourth season in the ACC, but they took their lumps, going 9-21, 12-17 and 9-21 in conference play over their first three years. They finished just two games under .500 in conference action in 2009 and 2010, then regressed to 7-22 and 10-20 the last two seasons.
Aoki has better resources (including a dramatically better facility) and a stronger baseball tradition to draw upon now that he's at Notre Dame, but many of the challenges he'll face are the same. Cold-weather teams—even well-respected private schools like Boston College and Notre Dame—aren't going to win many recruiting battles for polished warm-weather prep prospects, which means they must develop Northern players, who tend to be more raw. So while Southern teams can reload annually and remain competitive year after year, Northern teams have more pronounced peaks and valleys while they develop their young talent. Competing against other cold-weather teams in the Big East, it's easier to make a run at a regional even without a roster at its peak. In the ACC, a developmental year will result in a 9-21 conference record.
Notre Dame should get something of a recruiting bump by moving into a power conference, but I can't see that being significant enough to offset the challenges of playing in a league against Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia—seven programs that are almost always going to be in regionals and also in the mix for Omaha. Virginia Tech and Wake Forest also are better positioned to compete annually than Notre Dame, because of simple geography (and both programs also have excellent leadership in place). That doesn't mean the Fighting Irish can't make the regionals every few years, but the harsh reality is that it will very difficult for them to recapture the Mainieri-era glory days.
Based on his pure stuff, Venditte is more of a good org guy than a top prospect, but if he keeps getting outs he may get the chance to pitch in the big leagues as a middle reliever. He has been pitching ambidextrously since he was 3 and can throw strikes from both sides. The problem is he lacks a plus pitch, working in the upper 80s with his fastball as a rigthy and in the lower 80s as a lefty. He also mixes in curveballs, sliders and changeups, pitching from a traditional arm slot as a righty and working from a low angle as a southpaw.
Eligible for the last two major league Rule 5 drafts but untaken, Venditte opened 2012 by pitching well in seven games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before he came down with a labrum tear in his right shoulder. He had surgery that will keep him out until mid-2013, lengthening the odds of him reaching the majors. But given how far he has come and how much he competes, I wouldn't bet against him.