Each year around the Fourth of July, we interrupt our regular Prospect Hot Sheet schedule to recognize the top performers in the minors during the first half of the season. As always, we had no shortage of viable candidates, meaning that a few worthy players will have to keep working toward inclusion on our end-of-season all-star teams.

Before we jump in, a tip of the cap to a few sluggers who just missed making our first or second teams: Double-A Trenton 3B Brandon Laird (Yankees), low Class A Lakewood 1B Jonathan Singleton (Phillies) and Triple-A Las Vegas 1B Brett Wallace (Blue Jays). Likewise, these fine pitchers just missed the cut: high Class A Ranco Cucamonga RHP Tyler Chatwood (Angels), Triple-A Charlotte RHP Dan Hudson (White Sox) and Double-A Mississippi LHP Mike Minor (Braves).

Contributing: Ben Badler, Bubba Brown, Matt Eddy, Tyler Jett, Mike Lemaire and Jim Shonerd.

C CARLOS SANTANA
INDIANS
Team: Triple-A Columbus (International)
Age: 24
Why He's Here: .316/.447/.597 (62-for-196), 13 HR, 14 2B, 1 3B, 51 RBIs, 39 R, 45 BB, 39 SO, 6-for-6 SB

A switch-hitting catcher with power who showed no mercy toward the International League—haven't we seen this one before? It seems like ancient history, but it was only last season that Matt Wieters batted .305/.387/.504 in 39 games for Norfolk on his way to Baltimore. Santana played in a much more forgiving IL home park than did Wieters, plus he's a year older, but with his 1.044 OPS he edged out Triple-A vets Dan Johnson and Chris Richard for the league lead at the time of his promotion. Improbably, Santana has been even better in the American League, batting .333/.461/.683 (20-for-60) with four homers and nine doubles in his first 19 big league games. But one wonders how many times over the last-place Indians would have to clone Carlos Santana to get back into the race.
2010 Stats

Honorable Mention: Wil Myers, low Class A Burlington (Royals)

1B ERIC HOSMER
ROYALS
Team: high Class A Wilmington (Carolina)
Age: 20
Why He's Here: .351/.426/.524 (101-for-288), 6 HR, 26 2B, 6 3B, 43 RBIs, 42 R, 40 BB, 31 SO, 11-for-12 SB

Hampered by a vision problem and a fractured knuckle, Hosmer struggled immensely in his first full season of professional ball. Now healthy, he's showing off the sweet swing and advanced plate discipline that helped make him the third overall pick in 2008. Playing in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League, Hosmer's tantalizing raw power has yet to manifest in home runs. But while the league swallowed up fellow top prospect Mike Moustakas last season, Hosmer is leading the circuit in doubles, average, on-base percentage and OPS, so there's plenty of indication the home run totals will eventually be there. A sneaky athlete who has improved defensively and become a stolen-base threat, Hosmer has been rewarded for his fantastic first half with an invitation to the Futures Game later this month.
2010 Stats

Honorable Mention: Brandon Belt, high Class A San Jose (Giants)

2B BRETT LAWRIE
BREWERS
Mike MoustakasTeam: Double-A Huntsville (Southern)
Age: 20
Why He's Here: .299/.363/.483 (96-for-321), 6 HR, 21 2B, 10 3B, 41 RBIs, 51 R, 30 BB, 70 SO, 22-for-31 SB

It's only fitting that one day after Canada Day we recognize one of the best players in the minor leagues who hails from the Great White North. Lawrie has his faults—he still strikes out too often and is a work in progress at second base. But for someone who will play the entire season at age 20, his offensive consistency and numbers are impressive. He leads the circuit with 10 triples and 155 total bases, and is among the league's best in doubles, slugging, OPS and stolen bases.
2010 Stats

Honorable Mention: Oscar Tejeda, high Class A Salem (Red Sox)

3B MIKE MOUSTAKAS
ROYALS
Mike MoustakasTeam: Double-A Northwest Arkansas (Texas)
Age: 21
Why He's Here: .343/.411/.683 (79-for-230), 19 HR, 21 2B, 67 RBIs, 51 R, 24 BB, 38 SO

After a rough 2009 campaign, the hitter-friendly Texas League has proven to be the perfect antidote for Moustakas. Questions about his raw power—the tool that made him the second overall pick in 2007—arose after he hit just 16 home runs for high Class A Wilimington last season. But through 59 games for Northwest Arkansas, Moustakas already has knocked a TL-leading 19 out of the park. And while his plate discipline needs further refinement (eight of those 24 walks have been intentional), he's taken a decided step forward this season.
2010 Stats

Honorable Mention: Pedro Alvarez, Triple-A Indianapolis (Pirates)

SS NICK FRANKLIN
MARINERS
Team: low Class A Clinton (Midwest)
Age: 19
Why He's Here: .290/.346/.529 (80-for-276), 14 HR, 12 2B, 6 3B, 38 RBIs, 49 R, 21 BB, 62 SO, 11-for-16 SB

After going 16-for-77 (.208) in June, Franklin could be poised for a second-half rebound. But really, the 2009 first-rounder already has surpassed any reasonable expectation with his first-half play. A teenage shortstop in the Midwest League just is not supposed to challenge for home run and slugging titles—but there he is, ranked second and third. On Franklin's to-do list for July and August: iron out his righthanded swing. The switch-hitter is batting just .240/.278/.400 versus southpaws, while he sports a robust .946 OPS against righthanders.
2010 Stats

Honorable Mention: Drew Cumberland, high Class A Lake Elsinore / Double-A San Antonio (Padres)

CF MIKE TROUT
ANGELS
Mike TroutTeam: low Class A Cedar Rapids (Midwest)
Age: 18
Why He's Here: .362/.442/.533 (104-for-287), 6 HR, 17 2B, 7 3B, 37 RBIs, 66 R, 36 BB, 46 SO, 38-for-45 SB

Superlatives fall short of describing just how outstanding Trout has been this season. If it wasn't for 22-year-old first baseman Jerry Sands, Trout would lead the Midwest League in almost every major offensive category. Did we mention he's still just 18? As it stands, Trout leads the league in average, on-base percentage, runs and stolen bases, and he's made only one error in center field. A true five-tool player and a rock-solid 6-foot-1, 217 pounds, Trout has earned a well-deserved trip to the Futures Game. Few prospects have made a more convincing argument to shoot to the top of the charts.
2010 Stats

Honorable Mention: Brett Jackson, high Class A Daytona / Double-A Tennessee (Cubs)

OF DOMONIC BROWN
PHILLIES
Mike StantonTeam: Double-A Reading (Eastern) / Triple-A Lehigh Valley (International)
Age: 22
Why He's Here: .330/.399/.614 (87-for-264), 17 HR, 18 2B, 3 3B, 53 RBIs, 55 R, 31 BB, 55 SO, 13-for-20 SO

One of the best prospects still in the minors, Brown needed just three months this season to prove his readiness for Triple-A. That will happen when you hit .318 with 15 homers and lead the Eastern League in slugging (.602). When all was said and done, Brown had upped his OPS with Reading by nearly 200 points from his 37-game trial there at the tail end of 2009. He reeled off a 12-game hitting streak this June and already has set a new career high for home runs (his previous high was last year's 14), helping assuage one of the few doubts about his tool set.
2010 Stats

Honorable Mention: Jerry Sands, low Class A Great Lakes / Double-A Chattanooga (Dodgers)

OF MIKE STANTON
MARLINS
Mike StantonTeam: Double-A Jacksonville (Southern)
Age: 20
Why He's Here: .313/.442/.729 (60-for-192), 21 HR, 13 2B, 2 3B, 52 RBIs, 42 R, 44 BB, 53 SO, 1-for-1 SB

Stanton was on pace for a historically great season with Jacksonville. But as you'd expect, his prowess at mashing Southern League pitching earned him a promotion, and he's been a regular in the Marlins outfield since early June. His 21 homers in 53 games for the Suns had him in the minor league lead, a lead he still held for another three weeks after his promotion, until the Dodgers' Jerry Sands finally passed him this week. Opponents became less and less eager to pitch to him with each tape-measure shot, but Stanton showed he's got the patience to go with his power, drawing 44 walks, and his 10 intentional passes still leads the minors.
2010 Stats

Honorable Mention: Desmond Jennings, Triple-A Durham (Rays)

SP JULIO TEHERAN, RHP
BRAVES
Team: high Class A Myrtle Beach (Carolina) / low Class A Rome (South Atlantic)
Age: 19
Why He's Here: 5-4, 2.04, 14 GS, 83 2/3 IP, 66 H, 23 R, 19 ER, 5 HR, 18 BB, 97 SO

Only one of a handful of high-ceiling Braves arms, Teheran has turned in what may be the most dominant season of any pitcher in the minors. He made quick work of the South Atlantic League to earn a quick promotion to Myrtle Beach, where he hasn't missed a beat. Until his most recent start, in which he got touched up for three homers and eight earned runs, Teheran's ERA was hovering around one, at 1.38. As you can see above, he has given up just two other longballs this season. Teheran's dominance has some wondering if a promotion to Double-A Mississippi later this summer could be in the works.
2010 Stats

Honorable Mention: LHP John Lamb, low Class A Burlington / high Class A Wilmington (Royals)

SP JEREMY HELLICKSON, RHP
RAYS
Jeremy HellicksonTeam: Triple-A Durham (International)
Age: 23
Why He's Here: 10-2, 2.35, 17 GS, 99 2/3 IP, 89 H, 28 R, 26 ER, 4 HR, 22 BB, 101 SO

Hellickson has nothing left to prove in Triple-A. At the conclusion of his day's work, he typically leads the International League in wins, strikeouts and innings. But unfortunately for Hellickson, the Rays' rotation ranks second in the American League a 3.73 ERA, so they're not exactly seeking entry-level hires. For Hellickson, a bit of good news: Four of Tampa Bay's five starters—Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, David Price and James Shields—trod exactly the same path from Durham to St. Petersburg. That's just something to ponder about while he awaits departure from the heat of a North Carolina summer for climate-controlled Tropicana Field.
2010 Stats

Honorable Mention: RHP Randall Delgado, high Class A Myrtle Beach (Braves)

SP MICHAEL PINEDA, RHP
MARINERS
Michael PinedaTeam: Triple-A Tacoma (Pacific Coast) / Double-A West Tenn (Southern)
Age: 21
Why He's Here: 9-1, 2.22, 15 GS, 89 IP, 75 H, 26 R, 22 ER, 3 HR, 21 BB, 94 SO

"Not many Mariners farmhands can match Pineda's upside," we wrote in our most recent Prospect Handbook. But even the most giddy projection would have underestimated the level of dominance he has displayed this season as he's marched to Triple-A. (The lesson: don't take lightly any pitcher who turns in a 2.84 ERA in High Desert, as Pineda did last season.) Pacific Coast League batters have touched him for two home runs in two starts, but he has otherwise kept the veterans in check with a 16-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Pineda's intimidating 6-foot-5 build, low to mid-90s heat and strike-throwing determination make him a can't-miss attraction. But his command of a cut fastball and changeup mark him as one of the minors' best starting pitching prospects.
2010 Stats

Honorable Mention: RHP Simon Castro, Double-A San Antonio (Padres)

SP JORDAN LYLES, RHP
ASTROS
Jordan LylesTeam: Double-A Corpus Christi (Texas)
Age: 19
Why He's Here: 6-5, 2.70, 14 GS, 93 1/3 IP, 88 H, 31 R, 28 ER, 7 HR, 22 BB, 85 SO

Lyles continues to justify Houston's decision to make him a supplemental first-round pick in 2008, when critics saw the selection as a reach. Naturally, his strikeout rate in Double-A can't match last year's 10.4-per-nine-innings rate from the low Class A South Atlantic League, but Lyles' ERA has shrunk by about half a run since that time.
2010 Stats

Honorable Mention: RHP Alex Colome, low Class A Bowling Green (Rays)

RP ANTHONY SLAMA, RHP
TWINS
Team: Triple-A Rochester (International)
Age: 26
Why He's Here: 0-1, 1.39, 37 G, 15 SV, 45 1/3 IP, 19 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 2 HR, 21 BB, 51 SO

While Slama's stuff isn't overwhelming, he's used it to deadly effect on minor league batters, holding them to a sub-.200 average in his career. (This year, he paces the International League with a jaw-dropping .126 opponent average.) Slama's 88-92 mph sinker and slider are more notable for their nasty late movement than sheer velocity. So while his strikeout rate has sipped to a career-low 10.1 per nine innings this season, he has compensated with 2.43 walks per nine, also a career-low rate.  
2010 Stats

Honorable Mention: LHP Tim Collins, Double-A New Hampshire (Blue Jays)