We’re only a few days away from minor league Opening Day, and half of the list still needs to be covered.
50. Xander Bogaerts, 3B, Boston: Bogaerts isn’t quick enough to play in the middle infield and will have to move off shortstop at some point, but he has a big bat and an arm that could keep him in the infield at third base. He hit 16 home runs and slugged over .500 in just 72 games last year, and that kind of power will play at any position. He’s one of several young Red Sox hitters that could make a big impact in a few years. Bogaerts only batted .260, but he can hit to all fields and should have the swing and will likely hit for a higher average in the future. He’ll have to prove he can do it over a full season, and he’ll get that chance in high-A in 2012.
49. Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B, Kansas City: Cuthbert’s season was a bit underwhelming at Kane County in 2011, but he still ranks high due to his potential. He slumped badly at the end of the season, and he’ll be challenged to perform throughout the whole season next year. Even though he’s not overwhelmingly physical, he has the plus power needed for third base, and he has a really good hit tool too. He has soft hands and the arm for the hot corner, but he could grow out of the position which would really put a lot of pressure on his bat. Kansas City considers him a part of the second wave of prospects that will complement the core they’re trying to put in place now.
48. Jarred Cosart, RHP, Houston: Cosart made quite the impression in the 2011 Futures Game, but all year the stats didn’t live up to the stuff. He was able to pitch the entire season which is a huge plus with his injury history, but he still needs to miss more bats. His command was also not as sharp as it had been in 2010, so he still has some work to do to reach his potential. His fastball lights up radar guns and his curveball buckles knees, but sooner or later he needs to produce in games to maintain his stock. He has the stuff to be a frontline starter, but the results haven’t been there yet.
47. Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Tampa Bay: Lee could be the quintessential leadoff hitter if he continues to develop. He struggled the last month of the season after being promoted to AA, but an adjustment period isn’t anything unusual. He’s a fast baserunner that previously showed he can steal smartly, but his stolen base percentage dropped in 2011. He’ll hit for a high average with pretty good on base skills, but he won’t hit for much power. He’s a smooth fielder with a good arm making him well above average at shortstop. Tim Beckham may have been a first overall pick, but it looks like Lee is Tampa Bay’s shortstop of the future.
46. Bubba Starling, CF, Kansas City: He’s very far away from his ceiling, but Starling has the potential to win an MVP award. He’s a top notch multi-sport athlete that will be a stolen base threat and run down a lot of balls in centerfield. His great arm that Nebraska wanted on campus to play QB will play in any outfield position. Starling has shown big time power in batting practice, and his swing mechanics have improved since he got on the radar for scouts. He may not be ready to play in a full-season league just yet, but it will happen at some point during 2012.
45. Gary Sanchez, C, Yankees: Coming off a standout 2010 season, Sanchez had problems at and behind the plate. That said, he showed off his plus power slugging 17 home runs in just 82 games. The rest of his game still needs a lot of work. He’s an incredibly raw defender that led the South Atlantic League in passed balls even though he was only behind the plate for 60 games. He has the arm to play catcher and a slight chance of improving as a receiver and game caller, but it seems more likely that he has to move off catcher. If he does, his bat has the potential to play at other positions since he could be a plus hitter with plus power.
44. Rymer Liriano, OF, San Diego: For the second straight year, Liriano struggled in a brief stint in the Cal League. This time when he went back to low-A, he was the league MVP. He batted .319 with 50 extra base hits in 116 games, and scouts believe he’ll turn some of his doubles into home runs down the road. He stole 66 bases at a pretty good percentage, and he has the arm to handle right field. He needs to continue to refine his approach to keep his tools translating to production which he’s only done once outside of a complex league. His upside is higher than just about anyone in San Diego’s system.
43. Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston: Philadelphia’s experiment with Singleton in left field was inconclusive, but the Astros don’t need to worry about that since he’s not blocked by anyone at first base. While he hasn’t consistently hit for power for a player as big as he is (just 29 home runs in 263 career games), he has the size, strength and swing to do so. He can hit for a high average even with a pretty violent swing, and he’s shown a good command of the strike zone in the past. He’s a bit more athletic than the typical first baseman which is why it was believed he could play left field, but if he hits more consistently his bat will profile at first base just fine.
42. Yasmani Grandal, C, San Diego: One of the reasons Grandal was a highly touted draft pick was his great performance at a top college program, and that meant he could reach the majors quickly. He was on track to do that, going from high-A to AAA in his first full season. Now he could be San Diego’s catcher of the future even though they just signed the underrated Nick Hundley to an extension. He’s a solid-average defender and will stay behind the plate, and his offense will be well above average for the position. He slugged .500 in 2011, but he might not have quite that much power in the majors. He knows the strike zone and hits for average from both sides of the plate, and that’s why he was the centerpiece of this offseason’s Mat Latos trade.
41. Matt Harvey, RHP, Mets: After a slow start at North Carolina in his college career, Harvey had a very good junior season, good enough to be a top 10 pick in 2010. He continued that momentum into the start of his pro career in high-A but was just okay after a promotion to AA. The important thing is he kept his walk rate at a manageable level while maintaining his strikeout stuff. His fastball has nice velocity and life, and his plus slider gets swings and misses. Throwing a changeup is pretty new for him, and that’ll have to improve to be sure he stays in the rotation. He could make his ML debut this season and help to usher in a new era for Mets baseball.
40. Zach Lee, RHP, Los Angeles: If Josh Bell was the surprise signing of the 2011 draft, that player would’ve been Zach Lee in 2010. He turned down a football scholarship to LSU to pitch for the once cash-strapped Dodgers and had a pretty good pro debut in low-A. He missed a few starts with elbow issues early in the season, but he doesn’t have any mechanical concerns that would lead to further injuries. He combines rare pitchability for a young pitcher with really good stuff, and he has the size and makeup to get the most out of his talent. Lee needs to keep working on his secondary pitches, but he has plenty of time to do so before reaching the Dodgers.
39. Mike Olt, 3B, Texas: The Rangers aren’t exactly hurting at the hot corner, but Olt could force the issue in the majors very soon. Like Will Middlebrooks earlier on the list, Olt looks and plays like the classic third baseman. He hits for very good power with 14 home runs in just 69 high-A games last year, and he has the ability to stay patient and wait for his pitch despite a lot of swings and misses. He combines a great arm and the hands of a former shortstop to make him a very good fielder. If he has a hole, he doesn’t make consistent contact and needs to cut down on his strikeouts.
38. Brett Jackson, CF, Cubs: Jackson has the talent to be a key part of the Cubs rebuild. He has plus power not seen in many centerfielders, and he’s a smart player at the plate, on the bases and in the field. He’s probably not quite a 20/20 threat, but he still has quality speed. Although he’s a career .292 hitter in the minors, he strikes out a lot with a long swing, and he won’t hit for an average that high in the majors. Overall, he has a solid package that should be ready for the majors after a little more seasoning in AAA. Right now, the Cubs have a bit of outfield depth that they’ll need to clear out.
37. Minor League Guy, OF, St. Louis: Also known as Oscar Taveras, a very impressive player. Not only does he have great ability, but also how advanced he is for a 19 year old. He’s jumping right to AA after only 78 games, and he has the profile to succeed after the double jump. He swings hard and almost a bit violently, but the balls he puts in play are hit just as hard and violently. He knows the strike zone and which pitches he can drive, and the Cardinals hope that will lead towards more power. He’s not overly athletic or physical, so his bat will have to carry him. All evidence to date suggests it will be able to, and he’ll hit for right field and be fine out there defensively.
36. Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis: 2011 was only his first year playing stateside ball, but Martinez made quite an impression early. Using his top notch stuff, he dominated low-A in 38.2 innings with a 3.57 K/BB ratio. He has some of the best fastball velocity in baseball and could probably touch triple digits in short bursts. His curveball is also a great pitch, and his changeup is coming along. He really struggled with command after his promotion to high-A, and he needs to work on repeating his typically smooth delivery. The main concern with Martinez is his size, standing at 6’0 and only 165 pounds. It’s difficult to succeed as a righty with that size, and durability is always a concern for smaller pitchers.
35. Zack Wheeler, RHP, Mets: The Mets were looking for quality, not quantity, when they parted with Carlos Beltran last deadline, and they may have found it with Wheeler. The highly regarded Giants prospect was performing pretty well in high-A, showing off his frontline stuff despite some command issues. He threw many more strikes after the trade, and 2012 will show if the Mets made some changes to help him throw more strikes or if it was just a product of a small sample size. His best pitches are his fastball in the mid 90’s and a great curveball, and he’s working on expanding his repertoire with a changeup that’s still improving. Like Harvey, Wheeler could be pitching at the front of the Mets rotation when they finally begin turning it around.
34. Danny Hultzen, LHP, Seattle: Everyone agrees that best player available is the best draft strategy, yet it was a huge surprise when the Mariners selected Hultzen second overall and not a player like Anthony Rendon who was also worthy of that pick. He could be one of the first 2011 picks to reach the majors with the improvements he showed at Virginia and the Arizona Fall League. His fastball now sits in the low 90’s, and he complements it with a really good changeup and slider. He knows how to pitch and can command all of his pitches, so it’s not a matter of if he’ll be in the middle of the Mariners rotation, but when.
33. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle: Seattle was expecting to get a nice prospect with the 40th overall pick last year, but all of a sudden they have a potential ace on their hands. The Mariners handled Walker with care last year in his first full season, and he’ll be unleashed for a heavier workload in AA this season. He already has a nice fastball in the mid 90’s, and he has the frame to add even more strength. His curveball and changeup have made progress faster than anyone expected, and he struck out 113 batters in 96.2 innings. To nitpick, he still needs to improve his command, but his walk rate last year was still manageable.
32. Martin Perez, LHP, Texas: Perez has been on the prospect map for years now, but after a double jump from low-A to AA to avoid the Cal League, he struggled to adjust as an 18 year old. He was much better with Frisco this season, reducing his ERA by nearly three runs and cutting down on his walks. Despite a pretty small stature (6’0 180), he has a smooth delivery and great stuff. His fastball has life in the lower to mid-90’s, his changeup is one of the best in the minors, and his breaking pitches are coming along. He should be better in his second go around in AAA, and he could help the Rangers very soon.
31. Drew Pomeranz, LHP, Colorado: This former 5th overall pick only needed 20 minor league starts before making his ML debut, and the Rockies have to be satisfied with their acquisition in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade. He held his own over the course of five ML starts, and he’ll look to improve as a full-time member of the rotation this year. He’s an absolute workhorse at 6’5 and 230 pounds, and the Rockies will depend on him for a big workload in the future. His curveball is his best pitch, followed by a sinking fastball that can sit in the low 90’s. His changeup is still improving, and the Rockies hope he throws as many strikes as he did in September last year.
Tomorrow will feature prospects 11-30, and Wednesday will finish the list with the top 10.