1. Francisco Liriano, lhp, New Britain
2. Lastings Milledge, of, Binghamton
3. Hanley Ramirez, ss, Portland
4. Jon Lester, lhp, Portland
5. Ryan Zimmerman, 3b, Harrisburg
6. Nick Markakis, of, Bowie
7. Jonathan Papelbon, rhp, Portland
8. Jeremy Sowers, lhp, Akron
9. Anibal Sanchez, rhp, Portland
10. Joel Zumaya, rhp, Erie
11. Yusmeiro Petit, rhp, Binghamton
12. Dustin Pedroia, 2b, Portland
13. Hayden Penn, rhp, Bowie
14. Denard Span, of, New Britain
15. Merkin Valdez, rhp, Norwich
16. Matt Moses, 3b, New Britain
17. Eric Duncan, 3b, Trenton
18. Michael Bourn, of, Reading
19. Paul Maholm, lhp, Altoona
20. Franklin Gutierrez, of, Akron
The Eastern League has produced big leaguers such as Victor Martinez, Joe Mauer, Grady Sizemore and David Wright in recent years, so standards are high. While this year's group of position players couldn't stack up to their predecessors, the pitchers picked up the slack.
Led by New Britain's Francisco Liriano, pitchers occupied eight of the first 13 slots on our EL Top 20 Prospects list, up from five a year ago. Portland featured one of the best trios of starters in the minors in Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon and Anibal Sanchez. Erie had a power-pitching duo in Justin Verlander (who would have challenged Liriano for top honors had he qualified for this list) and Joel Zumaya, and Binghamton also had a good 1-2 punch in Yusmeiro Petit and Brian Bannister.
Akron cruised to the league's best regular-season record and the playoff championship behind a staff that featured seven arms who drew consideration for the Top 20: Fausto Carmona, Dan Denham, Jake Dittler, J.D. Martin, Rafael Perez, Brian Slocum and Jeremy Sowers. Sowers ranked right behind Lester as the best lefty in the EL.
"Pitching overall in this league is way above average, much better than last year," Altoona manager Tony Beasley said. "Every team has a couple guys at the front of their rotation that can stick it up your butt, and then late in games have enough bullpen to close it out. There are a lot of guys in this league that are going to pitch in the big leagues."
The pool of hitters was more meager. Until Binghamton outfielder Lastings Milledge, Harrisburg third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Bowie outfielder Nick Markakis arrived for the second half, Portland shortstop Hanley Ramirez was the lone high-ceiling position player in the EL.