Midseason Baseball America Top 25 Prospects

We update our preseason Top 100

When Matt Wieters hit his third big league home run, an opposite-field shot off Angels lefthander Joe Saunders, the ball made that different sound off the bat. It prompted Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, doing color commentary on MASN, to joke, "Well, that's why they paid him $6 million."

Wieters was showing why he was the top prospect in the game coming into the 2009 season, and he and No. 2 David Price were first-half callups who will play major roles in the jumbled American League East playoff picture in the second half—Price as a member of Tampa Bay's rotation and Wieters in the spoiler role for the Orioles.

In fact, the top four players on Baseball America's preseason top 100 prospects list are playing big roles in the big leagues—No. 3, center fielder Colby Rasmus, has emerged as St. Louis' best lefthanded power threat, and No. 4, righthander Tommy Hanson, fashioned a 26-inning scoreless streak as Atlanta's new ace.

Many of the minors' top prospects have already been promoted to the majors, leaving a pair of 2007 draft picks, Braves outfielder Jason Heyward and Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton, vying for the top spot. The two faced off in early July in the Double-A Southern League, with their first baseman wing men, the Braves' Freddie Freeman and Marlins' Logan Morrison, joining them at the level. Heyward went 6-for-15 in his first four games, while Stanton already had 29 games at the Double-A level and hit his sixth Southern League homer in the fourth game of the series.

"Heyward's still such a young kid," said one professional scout who saw the series, "and so is Stanton. Heyward is still searching sometimes on offspeed stuff . . . Stanton is still adjusting to the breaking ball away. But Heyward has that line-drive stroke, and he has elite bat speed. And Stanton, he's still such a presence in the lineup, even though he's still adjusting."

Their all-around athletic ability combined with their impact offensive potential pushed them past the sluggers competing with them for the top spot. Yankees catcher Jesus Montero, the gem of the 2006 international signing period) and Rangers first baseman Justin Smoak, quickly emerging as a top talent from the 2008 draft, both have as much offensive upside as any minor leaguer in the game.

The pitching talent in the minors remains a bit thin, as the top three pitchers from our 2009 Top 100—Price, Hanson and Athletics lefthander Brett Anderson—have graduated to the majors. Giants lefthander Madison Bumgarner, No. 9 in the preseason, graduates to the top spots among pitchers, but his lack of secondary stuff prompted us to rank hitters in the top four spots ahead of him.

1. Jason Heyward, of BRAVES
A promotion to Double-A Mississippi made it possible that Heyward could jump to the majors in 2009, just two years after being drafted.
2. Mike Stanton, of MARLINS
No one hits 'em harder or farther than Stanton, who also will be a fine defender in right field to go with his top-shelf power.
3. Jesus Montero, c YANKEES
If Montero could defend behind the plate—he threw out just eight of 64 basestealers in the high Class A Florida State (12.5 percent)—he could rank first. He has impressive barrel awareness and offensive upside for his age and experience level.
4. Justin Smoak, 1b RANGERS
An oblique strain slowed Smoak a tad, but he jumped to high levels with no problems and fits the first-base profile perfectly.
5. Madison Bumgarner, lhp GIANTS
Bumgarner lives by the fastball and rarely dies with it. He needs to command his fringe-average secondary stuff better to thrive in the majors.
6. Buster Posey, c GIANTS
The 2008 College Player of the Year has an exceptionally polished offensive game, and his defense is getting him ready for the majors in 2010.
7. Carlos Santana, c INDIANS
Hard to believe the Dodgers gave up Santana—a switch-hitter with power and defensive ability—a year ago for Casey Blake.
8. Chris Tillman, rhp ORIOLES
No downside for the tall righty who has front-of-the-rotation stuff and surprising polish for a 21-year-old.
9. Brian Matusz, lhp ORIOLES
The top pitcher picked in 2008 has had no trouble moving to Double-A, giving up one run in the first 26 innings thanks to command of a four-pitch mix.
10. Logan Morrison, 1b MARLINS
A small wrist fracture set him back a bit, but he hasn't missed a beat with his fluid, smooth swing and excellent approach.
11. Freddie Freeman, 1b BRAVES
His precocious power pushed him to Double-A by age 19, and scouts expect him to turn his doubles (20) into home runs as he gains experience.
12. Jarrod Parker, rhp DIAMONDBACKS
Arizona's top prospect has been pushed, already in Double-A at age 20. He's proven a bit hittable at Mobile and will have to use his athleticism to make adjustments.
13. Neftali Feliz, rhp RANGERS
The minors' biggest fastball sits at 94-98 mph. If his move to the bullpen at Triple-A proves permanent, he'll be less valuable; improved pitchability would go a long way.
14. Alcides Escobar, ss BREWERS
The minors' top defender at a premium position has continued to improve his offensive performance, but his lack of power limits his ceiling.
15. Yonder Alonso, 1b REDS
Pushed to Double-A, Alonso broke a hamte bone in mid-June. His short swing, strength and patience should make him a monster offensive presence when healthy.
16. Wade Davis, rhp RAYS
Davis seems like he's been around forever, but he's just 23 and has handled Triple-A (8-4, 2.84). All he needs is a big league opportunity.
17. Dominic Brown, of PHILLIES
A broken right hand sidelined Brown in the midst of his breakout season, with a .540 slugging percentage in the high Class A Florida State League. He's an athletic power-speed dynamo, a plus defender and coming into his own offensively.
18. Desmond Jennings, of RAYS
The grind was starting to slow Jennings, whose development was interrupted last year by back and shoulder injuries. His power-speed combination, at his best, remains electric.
19. Jason Castro, c ASTROS
Athletic, cerebral and with all-around ability, Castro doesn't have a significant weakness and looks like a player the Astros can rebuild around.
20. Tim Beckham, ss RAYS
The 2008 draft's No. 1 selection, Beckham has shown he can hit (.283/.337/.417) and that he might move off shortstop (28 errors in 73 games).
21. Brett Wallace, 3b CARDINALS
Still considered a premium bat, Wallace finally met a challenge with his assignment to Triple-A Memphis. Shockingly, he adjusted (.299/.348/.435).
22. Matt LaPorta, 1b/of INDIANS
A future Pat Burrell, LaPorta got his first shot in the majors and figures to get back soon thanks to his power and patience.
23. Michael Taylor, of PHILLIES
Big, physical and athletic, Taylor has torn up Double-A Reading and is putting doubts scouts had about his bat in college to rest.
24. Kyle Drabek, rhp PHILLIES
Improved maturity off the mound and on it have pushed Drabek to Double-A (where he was 5-0, 2.70) and elite territory.
25. Michael Saunders, of MARINERS
Despite offseason shoulder surgery, Saunders was showing improved power to go with his all-around tools until a right hamstring pull slowed him.
The Next 25: Tim Alderson, rhp, Giants; Pedro Alvarez, 3b, Pirates; Lars Anderson, 1b, Red Sox; Jake Arrieta, rhp, Orioles; Jhoulys Chacin, rhp, Rockies; Lonnie Chisenhall, 3b, Indians; Christian Friedrich, lhp, Rockies; Jeremy Hellickson, rhp, Rays; Aaron Hicks, of, Twins; Brad Holt, rhp, Mets; Eric Hosmer, 1b, Royals; Austin Jackson, of, Yankees; Casey Kelly, rhp/ss, Red Sox; Jason Knapp, rhp, Phillies; Mat Latos, rhp, Padres; Jordan Lyles, rhp, Astros; Jennry Mejia, rhp, Mets; Matt Moore, lhp, Rays; Mike Moustakas, 3b, Royals; Derek Norris, c, Nationals; Martin Perez, lhp, Rangers; Ben Revere, of, Twins; Esmil Rogers, rhp, Rockies; Josh Vitters, 3b, Cubs; Nick Weglarz, of, Indians.
Contributing: Ben Badler, J.J. Cooper, Matt Eddy, Jim Shonerd