MLB Prospects: Top 50 MLB Prospects

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterMarch 26, 2012

MLB Prospects: Top 50 MLB Prospects

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    At long last, after alluding to my prospect rankings for the last week, Prospect Pipeline’s inaugural Top 50 prospects has finally arrived.

    Yes, it’s late in the game compared to when others released their respective lists. But considering that Prospect Pipeline debuted last Monday, I wanted to release my rankings as soon as possible.

    Before plunging into the Top 50, here is the criterion for how these prospects were evaluated and subsequently ranked.

     

    Hitters

    • Age vs. level: How well a player fared at a certain level relative to his age. For example, a 19-year-old outfielder who raked at either High-A or Double-A would garner a higher ranking than a 24-year-old who posted similar numbers at Triple-A.
    • Injury history
    • Tools: The number of impact tools a player possesses in relation to his position 
    • Hit tool: In the evolution of the prospect landscape, the hit tool has emerged as both the most valuable and hardest to project. 
    • On-base skills: How frequently the player gets on base and, in turn, how advanced his pitch recognition ability is
    • Whether he has a clear path to the major leagues
    • Whether he currently plays a premium position and remains there
    • If not, what skills separate him from other prospects at the same position?

     

    Pitchers

    • Age vs. level
    • Injury history (durability)
    • K/9: Has the pitcher posted similar K/9 rates throughout the minor leagues? Essentially, does he have the stuff to generate swing-and-misses in the major leagues?
    • Command: Whether he can command his pure stuff
    • Pitchability: The number of above-average pitches in a pitcher's arsenal
    • Does he project as a starter, or will he ultimately work out of the bullpen?

     

    Future Adjustments

    • Unlike other lists, Prospect Pipeline’s Top 50 will be unique in the sense that it will be updated at the beginning of each month, possibly even bi-monthly.
    • Once a player has either met or exceeded the rookie qualifications—130 career at-bats or 50 career innings pitched—he will be removed from this list.

     

    Now, I fully understand that some of my rankings will generate criticism—and I welcome it. Given my background as a player, coach and scout, I may view players in a much different light than others. While I love players with flashy tools, I am not blinded by them. I don’t just look at stats; I scrutinize a hitter’s swing as much as I do a pitcher’s mechanics. What I’m trying to say is: I’m highly critical.

    My Top 50 has been an enormous undertaking to which I have dedicated an obscene amount of time.  Therefore, I want to hear from you, the readers. Please feel free to contact me with any questions, comments and criticism. You may share your thoughts in the comments section of this article, email me at mrosenbaum@bleacherreport.com, or reach out to me on Twitter (@GoldenSombrero). 

    If there is enough feedback regarding my Top 50, I would like to schedule a live chat for either Wednesday or Thursday—time to be determined.

    I thank you all in advance for your support of Prospect Pipeline, and I look forward to all the prolonged discussions we will undoubtedly have over the course of the Major and Minor League Baseball season. 

50. Michael Choice, Oakland Athletics

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    Position: OF                 

    Height/Weight: 6'0", 215

    DOB: 11/10/1989           

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2010, first round (UT-Arlington)

     

    2011 Stats:

    High-A: .285/.376/.542, .257 ISO, 130 wRC+ (542 plate appearances)

     

    Overview: There is some swing-and-miss with Choice, but no part of any park can hold him and his defense is far better than one would expect from this kind of power bat. He still chases too many breaking balls, but that should improve in 2012. 

    There is a realistic chance that Choice can stay in center field, and if he can, then he has All-Star potential. While his speed is a 60, he doesn’t necessarily use it very well on the bases.

    The down tool with Choice is his arm, so his value drops considerably if he's forced to move away of center, but by no means is that move imminent or even likely. Choice can take a huge step forward with a big 2012 in the high minors.

    ETA: 2013

49. Yonder Alonso, San Diego Padres

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    Position: 1B

    Height/Weight: 6'2", 240

    DOB: 4/8/1987

    Bats/Throws: L/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2008, first round (University of Miami)

     

    2011 Stats:

    AAA: .296/.374/.486, 11.2 BB%, 14.7 K%, .190 ISO, 131 wRC+ (409 PA)

    MLB: .330/.398/.545, 10.2 BB%, 21.4 K%, .216 ISO, 160 wRC+ (98 PA)

     

    Overview: Blocked by Joey Votto in Cincinnati, Alonso wasn’t free to progress through the minors as needed.  He has a plus bat from the left side and knows how to use the entire field. He also has above-average power, although he has never hit more than 15 home runs in a season since entering the minors. He has an advanced feel for the strike zone and can hit in all counts.

    On defense, Alonso is limited to first base due to his size and below-average athleticism, and there's nothing sexy about a first-base-only prospect.  His lack of power hurts his projection as a long-lasting big-league first baseman, as well as his overall ranking on this list.

    The trade to San Diego for Mat Latos was a blessing for Alonso, who figures to be the team’s Opening Day first baseman.

    ETA: 2011

48. Brett Jackson, Chicago Cubs

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    Position: OF                        

    Height/Weight: 6'2", 210

    DOB: 8/2/1988            

    Bats/Throws: L/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2009, first round (University of California)

     

    2011 Stats:

    Double-A: .256/.373/.443, 15 SB, .189 ISO, 124 wRC+ (297 PA)

    Triple-A: .297/.388/.551, 6 SB, .254 ISO, 130 wRC+ (215 PA) 


    Overview: Jackson is a phenomenal athlete with five above-average tools.  He posted a 20/20 season in 2011 while walking 73 times in just over 500 plate appearances.  He strikes out too much, but the power numbers justify it to some extent.  As a 60-speed guy, Jackson has potential to stay in center field and challenge for 20 stolen bases in the Show.  With a 50 to 55 arm, he has a chance to be above average in center field for years.

    His speed plays well on the bases and should for at least a few years, as he was successful in over 75 percent of his stolen base opportunities.  Unfortunately, the Cubs' outfield is currently at capacity with Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and David DeJesus, so Jackson will begin the 2012 season in Triple-A.  Besides refining his plate discipline, Jackson is more than ready to take his talent to Wrigley this season. 

    ETA: 2012

47. Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers

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    Position: 3B                       

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 195

    DOB: 3/4/1992                        

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2010, first round (Archbishop McCarthy HS, FL)

     

    2011 Stats:

    Single-A: .312/.367/.436, .124 ISO, 129 wRC+ (562 PA)

     

    Overview: A first-round selection in 2010, Castellanos is hands-down the Tigers’ top hitting prospect. After an anemic start to the 2011 season at Low-A, he went on to slash .312/.367/.435 while playing in 135 games.  Even though he swatted only seven home runs, the right-handed hitter did tally 36 doubles. And considering his ability to barrel up the baseball, adding a little loft to his swing should yield more home runs. He struck out 130 times compared to 45 walks, so he’ll need to improve that differential this season.

    Castellanos is still learning how to play third base, but his range, instincts and above-average arm work well there. He’s tall (6'4") with wiry strength and lots of room to fill out.

    It will be interesting to see what adjustments he makes at High-A in 2012.

    ETA: 2015

46. Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees

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    Position: C                       

    Height/Weight: 6'2", 220

    DOB: 12/2/1992           

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2009, Dominican Republic

     

    2011 Stats:

    Single-A: .256/.335/.485, .229 ISO, 121 wRC+ (343 PA)

     

    Overview: Gary Sanchez distinguished himself as one of the game’s top catching prospects in 2010 by slashing .353/.408/.597 to begin his professional career.  Although the power still showed in 2011, he lacked consistency.  Sanchez has easy, raw power to all fields thanks to pure bat speed, and he should hit for a decent average. He knows how to work the count, often to his own detriment, and struggles with quality off-speed offerings.

    His receiving skills can be poor at times, and he can even come across as careless. Scouts think he will improve behind the plate enough to keep his bat there—ala Jesus Montero.  He does have a plus arm that helped him gun down 31 percent of base stealers last season.

    Sanchez could use some more time at Low-A to begin the season. But if he shows the same type of power that he did in 2011, he could be finish the season at High-A.

    ETA: 2015

45. Yasmani Grandal, San Diego Padres

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    Position: C                       

    Height/Weight: 6'2'', 210

    DOB: 11/8/1988           

    Bats/Throws: S/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2010, first round (University of Miami)

     

    2011 Stats:

    High-A: .296/.410/.510, .214 ISO, 137 wRC+ (251 PA)

    Double-A: .301/.360/.474, .173 ISO, 123 wRC+ (172 PA)

    Triple-A: .500/.667/.667, .167 ISO, 276 wRC+ (18 PA)

     

    Overview: Grandal, a switch hitter, was selected 12th overall in 2010 and has already appeared at every level. He’s a bat-first catcher with the ability to hit for both power and average from both sides of the plate. He has also shown a sound approach at the plate with knowledge of the strike zone and good on-base skills.

    Grandal’s receiving skills can lapse at times, but it’s not overly worrisome. He possesses the physicality for the position as well as a slightly above-average arm that helped him hose base stealers at a 34-percent clip. 

    He should start the year in the high minors with a chance to break in at some point during the 2012 season.  Nick Hundley’s three-year extension this past week does complicate things for Grandal, though it shouldn't hinder his 2013 arrival.

    ETA: 2013

44. James Paxton, Seattle Mariners

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    Position: LHP                        

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 220

    DOB: 11/6/1988           

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted/Signed: 2010, fourth round (University of Kentucky/Grand Prairie)

     

    2011 Stats:

    Single-A: 56 IP, 2.73 ERA, 2.24 FIP, 12.86 K/9, 4.82 BB/9, 0.16 HR/9 

    Double-A: 39 IP, 1.85 ERA, 2.33 FIP, 11.77 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 0.46 HR/9

     

    Overview: Drafted 37th overall in the 2009 draft, Paxton and the Blue Jays were unable to agree on a deal before the signing deadline. After the Mariners finally signed him in the spring of 2010, the 6'4" left-hander reached Double-A in his first professional season.

    Paxton’s fastball usually sits in the low 90s, but he has been known to dial it up as needed. He features a plus breaking ball and has the confidence to throw it in any count.  His changeup lags behind his other pitches and will need to be developed to neutralize big-league hitters.

    The Mariners will send Paxton back to Double-A to begin the season, but there’s a strong chance he’ll make his debut in 2012.

    ETA: 2012

43. Rymer Liriano, San Diego Padres

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    Position: OF                        

    Height/Weight: 6'0", 211

    DOB: 6/20/1991           

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2007, Dominican Republic

     

    2011 Stats:

    Single-A: .319/.383/.499, 65 SB, .180 ISO, 157 wRC+ (519 PA)

     

    Overview: Rymer Liriano is a young outfielder with tons of upside. He struggled at High-A to begin the 2011 season and was subsequently demoted to Single-A where he garnered Midwest League MVP honors by slashing .319/.383/.499.

    He possesses both plus power and speed, as well as an above-average knowledge of the strike zone. His ability to hit for a high average is still suspect but shouldn’t detract from his overall game.

    Liriano’s ability to cover ground in center field and his above-average arm should allow him to stay in center field for the time being, but his thick build suggests he might get bulky over time and require a move to right field.

    Already on the Padres’ 40-man roster, he’ll get another crack at High-A to begin the 2012 season. If it goes well, Liriano could rise quickly through the Padres’ system.

    ETA: 2014

42. A.J. Cole, Oakland Athletics

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    Position: RHP                       

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 180

    DOB: 1/5/92                       

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2010, fourth round (Oviedo HS, FL)

     

    2011 Stats:

    Single-A: 89 IP, 4.04 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 10.92 K/9, 2.43 BB/9, 0.61 HR/9

     

    Overview: A key piece of the trade that sent Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals, Cole emerged as one of the minors' top power pitchers in 2011.  A bulldog on the mound, he relentlessly attacks hitters with a mid-90s fastball that peaks at 98 mph. While he has shown above-average command of his fastball, he doesn’t locate his secondary stuff as well—though his curveball is a hammer that generates swing-and-misses. He does have a changeup, but it’s a work-in-progress.

    At 6'4", Cole throws everything on a downward plane and has worked hard to make his mechanics more repeatable. He has tremendous natural ability and could develop into a No. 1 starter.  He’ll head to High-A to begin the upcoming season and is a pitcher to follow closely in 2012.

    ETA: 2014

41. Hak-Ju Lee, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Position: SS                        

    Height/Weight: 6'2", 170

    DOB: 11/4/1990            

    Bats/Throws: L/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2008, South Korea

     

    2011 Stats:

    High-A: .318/.389/.443, 28 SB, .125 ISO, 133 wRC+ (454 PA)

    Double-A: .190/.272/.310, 5 SB (114 PA)

     

    Overview: Lee is an exceptional fielder; one of the best defensive shortstops in the minors. He has phenomenal range and a plus arm with outstanding instincts and feel for the position. His bat is behind, and he will never provide the thump to be the consistent All-Star that some other shortstop prospects likely will.

    Across two stops in 2011, Lee posted a .292/.365/.416 slash line with 33 swipes and 37 extra-base hits.  A left-handed hitter, he runs well and should consistently collect more doubles and triples than home runs.

    A full season in Double-A should provide Lee with the seasoning he needs to be a big-league shortstop in 2013. However, nothing is certain when it comes to the Rays and shortstop prospects.

    ETA: 2013

40. Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Position: RHP                       

    Height/Weight: 6-0/165

    DOB: 9/21/1991           

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2010, Dominican Republic

     

    2011 Stats:

    Single-A: 38.2 IP, 2.33 ERA, 2.35 FIP, 11.64 K/9, 3.26 BB/9, 0.23 HR/9

    High-A: 46 IP, 5.28 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 9.39 K/9, 5.87 BB/9, 0.39 HR/9

     

    Overview: Martinez can throw 95 mph with his back against a wall—a testament to his lightening-quick arm. The right-hander can hit triple digits on occasion but sits in the mid-to-high 90s. He also has a 90-93 mph fastball variation with late sink. 

    His secondary stuff has a ways to go, but his breaker is at least a 60 and is the downer type with good pace and shape. He also has a changeup with a little fade to it, although he struggles with its command due to natural arm speed. He slows his arm a lot at times with both offerings, and both flatten out when he does, but it’s nothing the Cardinals can’t iron out.

    He finished the 2011 season at High-A where his mechanics were a total mess. Martinez will repeat the level to begin the season with the potential for a promotion to Double-A.

    Though he has started at every level in the minors, he has also been profiled as a closer, which may be a faster rout to the major leagues if his control problems persist.

    ETA: 2014

39. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox

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    Position: SS                       

    Height/Weight: 6'3", 175

    DOB: 10/1/1992           

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2009, Aruba

     

    2011 Stats:

    Single-A: .260/.324/.509, .249 ISO, 120 wRC+ (296 PA)

     

    Overview: Bogaerts put his name on the map with a .314/.396/.423 professional debut in 2010 and followed it by blasting 16 home runs in 72 games in 2011. Only 19 years old, his smooth swing and plus power allow him to drive the ball to all fields with backspin carry. As he faces more advanced pitching, however, he’ll be forced to become more selective, especially with quality off-speed pitches.

    While he has soft hands and a plus arm at shortstop, Bogaerts lacks the quickness needed to remain there. Considering his other tools, he could either end up in right field or at third base—likely the latter.

    He may hit a few speed bumps this season at High-A, but that’s often the case with elite power-hitting prospects.

    ETA: 2015

38. Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs

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    Position: SS                       

    Height/Weight: 6'0", 180

    DOB: 12/1/1992            

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2011, first round (Arlington Country Day School, FL)

     

    2011 Stats:

    Rookie: .333/.333/.500, 2 SB, .167 ISO, 135 wRC+ (12 PA)

    Low-A: .167/.167/.167 (6 PA)

     

    Overview: The ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Baez has insane raw bat speed with the potential for plus power by the time he reaches the major leagues. Simply put: Baez swings as hard as humanly possible—every time. But that’s also what makes him such a promising hitter.

    His defense at shortstop is average, though he does have a strong arm. Given his size and defensive actions, Baez will probably shift to third base at some point. He has decent speed and good instincts on the base paths that give him 20/20 potential.

    Only 19 years old, the Cubs will send Baez to Low-A Peoria to begin the 2012 season.

    ETA: 2015

37. Oscar Taveras, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Position: OF                       

    Height/Weight: 6'2", 180

    DOB: 6/19/1992            

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted/Signed: 2010, Dominican Republic

     

    2011 Stats:

    Rookie: .307/.312/.413, .107 ISO, 73 wRC+ (77 PA);

    Single-A: .386/.444/.584, .198 ISO, 187 wRC+ (347 PA)

     

    Overview: One of the more impressive hitters in all of the minors last season, Taveras won the Midwest League batting title with a .386 average. The left-handed hitter takes forceful hacks but retains the ability to generate hard contact, thanks to his ridiculous hand-eye coordination and knowledge of the strike zone. His swing is balanced and smooth—a thing of beauty. His current gap power suggests that it may ultimately be above average.

    His above-average speed has allowed him to play all three outfield positions so far, but his highest ceiling comes as a corner outfielder. Given his strong arm, though, he’s more likely to end up in right field. Although it’s his bat that makes him an elite prospect, he will need to show more defensive value in 2012.

    ETA: 2013

36. Martin Perez, Texas Rangers

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    Position: LHP 

    Height/Weight: 6'0", 178

    DOB: 4/4/1991           

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted/Signed: 2008, Venezuela

     

    2011 Stats:

    Double-A: 88.1 IP, 3.16 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 8.46 K/9, 3.67 BB/9, 0.61 HR/9

    Triple-A: 49 IP, 6.43 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 6.80 K/9, 3.67 BB/9, 0.73 HR/9

     

    Overview: Perez’s 2011 season was a perplexing one: He posted excellent numbers at Double-A but then tanked after a promotion to Triple-A.

    For a prospect receiving this kind of ranking, Perez has iffy fastball command, but his overall stuff is too good to rank him any lower.  His heater reaches the mid-90s thanks to a quick, whippy arm, and he has arguably one of the finest breaking balls in the minors in the form of a heavy, downer curveball. When it’s on, it can easily grade as a double-plus pitch. He also has an average to above-average changeup that shows quality fade and should sufficiently handle right-handed hitters.

    The young left-hander has elite stuff, and with more than a full season in the high minors under his belt, he has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation arm. But reaching such a ceiling will require improved fastball command and a more consistent delivery, although the latter is greatly improved relative to what it was as a teenager. 

    ETA: 2013

35. Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Position: OF                       

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 195

    DOB: 8/14/1992            

    Bats/Throws: S/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2011, second round (Dallas Jesuit HS, TX)

     

    2011 Stats: DNP 

     

    Overview: Bell was the premier prep bat in the 2011 draft class and would have been one of the first 10 names off the board had signability not been a concern. 

    Bell is a 60 hitter from both sides with a 60 future power grading. He has quick wrists and raw, wiry strength that generates easy power while still allowing him to hit for average. His defense in center field is highlighted by extraordinary range and a strong arm that is better than people gave him credit for prior to the draft. He’ll likely wind up as a corner outfielder where those tools will be an even better fit.

    The Pirates will take their time with Bell and more than likely assign him to Low-A to open the season. However, a prep bat of this caliber is rare and could force the Pirates to move him along ahead of schedule.

    ETA: 2015

34. Drew Pomeranz, Colorado Rockies

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    Position: LHP                       

    Height/Weight: 6'5", 230

    DOB: 11/22/1988           

    Bats/Throws: R/L

    Drafted/Signed: 2010, first round (Mississippi)

     

    2011 Stats:

    High-A (CLE): 77 IP, 1.87 ERA, 2.36 FIP, 11.10 K/9, 3.74 BB/9, 0.23 HR/9

    Double-A (CLE): 14 IP, 2.57 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 10.93 K/9, 3.86 BB/9, 0.64 HR/9

    Double-A (COL): 10 IP, 0.00 ERA, 2.59 FIP, 6.30 K/9

    MLB (COL): 18.1 IP, 5.40 ERA, 2.59 FIP, 3.69 xFIP, 6.38 K/9, 2.45 BB/9

     

    Overview: Due to his previous experience, pure stuff and overall projectability, Pomeranz was the centerpiece of the deal that brought Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland. He was then rushed up to make four starts late in the year after 20 across three minor league stops—none above Double-A.

    The 6'5" left-hander already has a plus fastball and breaker and has the aptitude to develop a changeup on the fly at the major league level. However, given his jerky arm action on the backside, Pomeranz needs to establish more consistency with his delivery. With that in place, improved command should follow.

    Pomeranz will only be 23 years old in 2012 and should return to the Colorado rotation to begin the season. While his upside comes as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, he could blossom into the Rockies’ ace given their lackluste